Saturday, October 12, 2013

Year Four: Military Principal, Appendicitis and Working with a future SNL star?

When I started working for the Olympia school district, I was unaware that they served most of Thurston county's special education needs through a co-op model. So after having such a fun year with preschool in year three, I was moved to Tumwater to teach a self-contained special education class for children 6 to 12. I was heart-broken at having to leave the preschool, but I was the last teacher hired for that program, and numbers had dropped.

And so I was placed at an elementary school in Tumwater. Now this elementary school had never housed a self-contained program before. They did have a resource room, but that was the extent of their special needs population. The principal of the school was not interested in having this program either. A former military commander, he fought with the special education director to keep it out, but lost. So when I came to set up my class, he told me there was not a place for me. It seemed that there was a portable classroom, but that was for the resource room. It looked like I would be put on the stage in the gym. I went back to the special ed director for guidance. He called the principal and told him that I should have the portable and the resource teacher should be put in a smaller space. But the principal decided that the two special ed programs should share the space. I had half of the portable with 12 students with moderate delays and no educational assistant. The resource room teacher, serving 2 to 3 students at a time, had the other half, and an aide! Not only that, but she insisted that we be quiet at all times, and if we were too loud, she would lean over the bookcase dividers and go "SHHH!"

There were some bright spots; the kindergarten teachers were very friendly and wanted to include some of my younger students in their classes. However, the principal refused to have any of my students mainstream out. We were not allowed to be on the playground at the same time as the general ed population, have lunch outside of our class, or walk off of the sidewalks. The principal frequently turned on the intercom to listen in on my class, I'm sure hoping to catch me doing something he could get rid of the program for. By the middle of October, I was a nervous wreck. I started having stomach problems and severe abdominal pains. I chalked it up to stress. But then one day, the pains were so severe, my husband was called to come and take me to the emergency room. It turned out I had acute appendicitis and had to be operated on immediately! And because I had eaten that
day, I had to be awake during the operation! Those of you that know me well know how horrible this kind of thing is for me. I have a deathly fear of blood, needles and especially that combination! Well that little fiasco gave me a much needed two week reprieve.

After the first of the year, the special services department came through with a single-wide portable for the resource teacher to move into. Now I had the whole portable to myself! It felt wonderful! And we could be as loud as we wanted, we could sing and move and have some fun. The aide that the resource teacher had was now assigned to me half time as well. Life was getting a little more bearable. And then the biggest surprise of all: one of my students could start attending kindergarten. I have kept this note all of these years because it was a victory for inclusion. The first battle I had launched and actually won.

Finally, are you wondering which future SNL star I was working with? I've given you a little bit of information about the resource teacher. She was strict, cold, ultra-religious (but not necessarily "christian" in her actions), and constantly talking about her church and singing in some upcoming cantata. When the aide we shared finished her half day with me, she would have to brace herself for the "force" that was that resource teacher! Well about 5 years or so later, my husband and I were watching SNL, and there was Dana Carvey as the "Church Lady". I turned to my husband and said, "Oh my God! He had to have met (the resource teacher)! That is her exactly!" I have a picture of her, and it is almost a dead ringer for this one of Dana as the Church Lady! However, my husband said, "If anyone remembers her and she sees this, you are in a lot of trouble!" He's right. So instead, I'm leaving you with this one. Take my word for it, she looked just like this!