This weeks reading for me centers on Chapter 12 and the prompt offered in FSO, Telling the WE story. I have been in the classroom for 23 years, and in that time I have worked with students ages 5 to 21, and they represented a huge range of disabilities cognitively and physically. My whole teaching career has been focused on paying it forward, giving as much as I can so my students can lead successful more independent lives as an adult with a disability.
The "we" comes from two opposites in the spectrum of disabilities. David a tall, thin, happy child with Autism, and Brandy a young trouble teenager who used drugs, was oppositional, and was a runner. David from the first time he joined our Life Skills program as a freshman said that he wanted to be a Car Detailer. As a freshman David had very low self-esteem, and he lived the life of a student with autism. He had to eat the same lunch every day, he had to have certain items in his backpack. He hated to be wrong, and he had no social skills. He would blurt out answers, or stand two inches from you. He would eat super fast. That meal had to have a can of Ensure, a fusion yogurt drink, and a tuna fish sandwich. He would refuse to try any new food. Changes of schedule had to be explained to him a week a head of time if possible. Remember he wanted to be a car detailer.
Brandy was a typical teenage girl, who was cute, and had a very outgoing personality, but she was hiding! She was hiding all of the hurt that had come her way with her dysfunctional family. Like many teenagers she would challenge authority to not only get her way, but to just push anyones buttons. What was he future going to be? I had no clue, I had my hunches. Did I think she was going to screw her life up along the way? YES I did.
As David grew older and became more confident it was clear that this young man was really going to go after his dream. He was able to live through his parents divorce, and he took on living with mom, and seeing dad on weekends. He proved that he take some regular education classes as long as he had a para with him that could keep him on task and organized. David was a visual learner, and reading fluency was not his strong point. If material was read to him, and gone over slowly with a fine tooth comb, he would get it. He joined our NJROTC program, and proved that he could learn how to be disciplined in study as he learned training manuals that would bore any of us. The auto mechanics course had MATH in it, OH NO Math. His connection with his para, teacher, and his mom got him through it. Mom was a wreck, but he made it through. He also took on a training job that paid him sub minimum wage at a local car dealer. It was there he learned how the professionals detailed a car. By the time his senior year rolled around he was detailing cars on his own in his garage. He was slow at it, but he was trying. He graduated and returned to us to take more auto shop classes. Classes at the local community college.With his para in tow they both learned the art of body work on an automobile, from dents to painting. His dad stayed in the picture, and provided him with funds to start his business, tshirts, and business cards brought Dave's Detailing into reality. David reached age 21 and soon it was the day before his 22nd birthday. He was about to age out of our services provided to him as a public school. A small business license was applied for, and a local car dealer provided him with a work space and cars to detail. It was a car port attached to the used car dealership. Today it is an enclosed garage and his business is thriving! My co-teacher and I are proud that we paid it forward by sticking with him, and teaching him as many functional life skills as possible.
I met Brandy when I was teaching computers and history in a residential treatment facility for students who had severe conduct disorders, and juvenile sex offenders. She was a hurt confused young lady that at the same time was very witty, sarcastic and foul mouthed. She used drugs and running away as her form of escape. She had issues with authority, lying, being inconsiderate to herself and those around her. I taught her in class, where her general attitude was I don't care. It was a rough start for both of us. I decided to put in extra hours and work on the residential units when they were short staffed. Each teacher was part of a treatment team, because school was considered part of their therapy. Working on the unit proved to the students that I cared, and was willing to put up with what ever they could dish out. I was called names, spit on, hit, and in the end they learned that I could physically restrain them if it was called for. It turned out that I was the only male trusted to work on the girls unit. Brandy and I slowly established a relationship. She figured out that I was a male that was going to respect her, help her and not try to be physical with her. It blossomed into a relationship built on trust. I could just look at her and she knew if I was approving of her behavior or not. Brandy left the program after working on her issues for almost 3 years. She became a leader on the residential unit and she left with her head held high. She would write to me from time to time and check in, then I lost track of her after that, until Facebook came along. She typed in my name one day and found me! We reconnected and I visited her home with her future husband and two kids. It was a tiny house, and seemed to have lots of problems, but it was a house. I asked her how she did after she left the treatment program. She said she had struggled but my letters helped keep her on track, and she admitted that the treatment program called Positive Peer Culture really did teach her a lot. YES I had paid it forward, and she was living proof.
What do I do from here? I keep going, I keep teaching. People who are not Special Education teachers often say to us that you have so much patience, your a special person. I don't think about it in those terms. I think that we are passionate, and we look for those sparks to ignite, we push ourselves to think out of the box to help our students to succeed. We go for the Possibilities!