Saturday, October 19, 2013

Year Five: Morning Sickness, Eighty Mile Daily Drive and Happiness

 My current school district has a motto that says "Special education is a service; not a place". But by the end of my fourth year, with my self-esteem at an all time low, I felt like the place I worked was going to ruin my teaching career and my ability to provide any valuable service. As the year ended, I made an appointment with the special education director and told him I wouldn't return to that job the following year. I asked if anything else would be available. He told me that there was a resource room opening in Rochester, a forty mile trip one way from where I lived. I'm pretty sure he thought that would discourage me, but I said I'd do it.

And so in September, 1978, I started my daily eighty mile commute. This was a very long drive and since my husband and I had only one car, I dropped him off in Olympia at his job before continuing my drive south to Rochester. Rochester then, and maybe still is, a very small community south of Tumwater and Little Rock, and just north of Centralia and Chehalis. It is right off of the I-5 corridor so the drive is pretty direct and easy. However, I was pregnant with my first child during this school year, so I was also fighting a daily dose of morning sickness! I have to say it did make for a much more interesting commute!

But back to the actual school year. After having a very humorless and militaristic principal the previous year, this year's principal was a breath of fresh air, and also a baptist minister. He was kind, patient, and soft-spoken, with a deep concern for all of his students. The teachers were open and welcoming. My instructional assistant was the mother of a little boy I'd worked with in the preschool program two years earlier in Olympia.

My resource room consisted of twelve boys! They were great! One boy in particular really captured my "teacher's heart". He was probably the most learning disabled student I've ever worked with. Extremely intelligent, if he heard the material he needed to know, he could orally answer any questions you asked. However, if he had to read the material, or write a response, the process would take hours and was painful to watch. At the time I thought, if only we treated him like a student with a visual impairment, gave him everything on tape to listen to, and had him take the tests orally, he could be successful. I met with his teacher and started the process of recording his history, social studies, science, etc. lessons on cassette tapes. Then I would give him the tests orally. He would ace these tests! He was so smart! I had to be careful in the classroom when I was working with other students though.
He would hear the material, and later when I was asking questions of that small group, he was ready with all of the answers, even though he had not been a part of that discussion! Strong auditory memory! Today we have so much more technology like Don Johnson's SOLO Suite that allows students with severe learning disabilities to learn alongside their typical peers and stay at grade level. But thirty-five years ago, the best we could do was a cassette recorder and a microphone!

Years later, while working as an education specialist in Spokane, I was in a self-contained program helping a teacher. The instructional assistant looked very familiar. I was talking to the teacher, but watching the IA and thinking, why does she look so familiar? Well it turned out to be the woman I worked with that year in Rochester! She and her husband had moved to Spokane, and her son, the one I worked with in preschool, was now an adult and living in a group home here! Sometimes it really is a small world!