Child of God, I love you.

You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.

I read again today of the passing of another local teenager who committed suicide. The details of this heartbreaking news are immaterial; instead, what remains incumbent upon us as adults is trying to figure out why a young person on the very cusp of a long and seemingly abundant life would ever choose to end it and, more importantly, how to prevent this from ever happening again.

I can only imagine that parents of teenagers, upon hearing this kind of news, get that sick, I-want-to-throw-up feeling, wondering if their own child could ever conceive of doing something so horribly permanent, so heartbreakingly sad.

And, invariably, we all ask, “Why?”

could jump to all kinds of conclusions about how kids these days are spoiled, and when things don’t go their way, they resort to all kinds of dramatic means to get attention (because some of them do).  I could make asinine assumptions about how today’s kids have no structure at home, no boundaries, always get what they want but it’s never enough, or how drugs and alcohol wreak havoc with a child’s psyche, and that’s what probably caused this tragedy (because sometimes it does).  Or I could foolishly point a finger at these kids’ parents, wondering what kind of home life the children had that would compel them to do this.  Because, truthfully, all of these factors do have merit.  One or all of these instances could be valid reasons why these tragedies have occurred.

But are these instances the cause, or is there an underlying motif playing with our children’s minds? And does sanctimoniously pointing out the faults of other families do anyone any good?  Because whatever heartbreak was happening in these children’s lives has just been multiplied a hundred-fold in the suffering of their parents and families.

No, I believe it’s something more ominous altogether.

Sadly, even a child growing up in a loving, nurturing, and spiritual home can fall prey to suicide because, unfortunately, we live in a society that has devalued human life.  The horrifying images of Americans being beheaded by the insidious evil that is Isis are broadcast on the internet for our kids to witness.  Women and even underage girls can walk into a Planned Parenthood facility, have their babies viciously sucked out of their bodies, then walk out a couple of hours later after the staff has given them a collective high-five, praising them for their “brave” decision to end their babies’ lives.  The violent nature of many of our kids’ video games doesn’t help lend credence to the sanctity of life; instead, it actually glorifies death, making it appear fascinatingly cool to kill and be killed.

These are today’s hardships, the yoke upon this generation’s shoulders.

Instead, what if our society valued every human being—from conception and beyond.  To this end, we have some work to do.  We must look for signs of depression in our kids and take seriously their anxieties, their worries, and their fears.  We must dedicate ourselves to teaching every child that he or she is valuable beyond measure.  Children must know and understand that God has created them in His image and that however insignificant they may perceive their lives to be, their very existence is a priceless treasure—a gift.  We may not like everything they do, but no matter what, we love them.  When they make mistakes, and they will make mistakes—some of them even colossal mistakes—it’s okay to lay down the law.  To do anything less is unforgiving.

But most importantly, we must make sure that our children know that they are loved.

To our children, know this: You are a child of God.  You are precious.  You are mine.  And I love you with every breath I take, with every beat of my heart, and I will continue to love you long after I am gone from this world.

 

Back to School

Few phrases have the ability to render depression in a teacher as the words “back to school”. In fact, four years after I went “back to school” for my twenty-fifth and final year of teaching, I still cringe when I hear the carefree, twinkling television commercial voices urging parents to drop what they’re doing, head into Target, Wal-Mart, and Kohl’s and get those kids ready to go back to school now! Because, Heaven forbid, if your child isn’t armed with the entire contents of Wal-Mart’s “back to school” section (which, curiously, now often includes tissues in boxes that look like school busses, hand sanitizer in gargantuan sizes, and Clorox wipes for those booger-y desk-tops), it’s a sure thing that his teacher will sneeringly look down her wart-riddled nose at you for not having heeded that all-important school supply list (which, incidentally, probably took seven or eight rather heated in-service meetings with the entire staff to compile).

In short, as a parent, you suck. You have every reason to be depressed.

But why are teachers depressed? And before I answer that question, let me apologize in advance to all of my teacher friends. I am sorry I feel compelled to reveal this ugly secret, but really, the public should know what you all (and what I did, at one time) go through while getting ready to go back to school, actually going back to school, and the weekend after you go back to school.

It’s simply the worst time of the year.

Here’s why: The getting-ready part–those few precious weeks before the FDOS–are, typically, fun. You get to reconnect with your colleagues after the few short months weeks you’ve not seen each other since the LDOS and, if you have a nice tan or you’ve been somewhere fun, you have that going for you, or if you’ve decided to do something different with your hair then you get to bask in the oohs and awes of your fellow girl-type teachers who decided not to go blond-y blond over the summer months weeks (I did that once), so yeah, it can be fun. And invariably, someone’s pregnant, someone’s gotten engaged, or, more likely, someone’s getting a divorce, so there’s gossip a-plenty.  And then there is the anticipation of a new start, a fresh set of students, eager babes who can’t wait to learn all that there is to learn in a year–because who wouldn’t be eager to learn at the end of the summer July?

Yeah, there’s that slice of hope, that nugget of “maybe this year it will be different” and the determination to make this year “the best school year ever”.

Then there’s the day–usually one or two days before the FDOS–when you’re contractually required to be at school at your contract time–7:00 AM-ish for elementary teachers, typically an hour later for middle school and high school teachers. There’s no room for error here–as in don’t be gettin’ used to the Starbucks drive-thru every morning–and you resign yourself to the fact that there’s no going back. School has started.

But wait–once your contract day begins, instead of those last minute touches to your classroom, you get to sit in meetings for the entire day! Even lunch–that sacrosanct hour twenty minutes when teachers are free to bitch about all the things teachers need to bitch about in order to maintain their sanity–becomes someone else’s agenda because you’re forced to eat a poorly catered lunch provided by the PFO where you can’t sit with your besties and tell it like it is because Mrs. So-and So is standing behind the pulled pork and you’ve got her kid in your class this year. The last thing you need is for her to overhear you grousing about how *&^%$#@ annoying the morning meeting with the superintendent was or how you hope this Christmas the PFO gets a freakin’ clue and hands out Trader Joe’s gift cards instead of those boring-ass United Arts and Education cards (five bottles of Two-buck Chuck v. ten dollars-worth of bulletin board borders? Wine me, please).

Then there are more meetings to learn about more procedures that have changed just enough from last year the end of May that you are forced to pay attention when all you really want to do is go home and take a nap (or watch Days of Our Lives). So you hurriedly spend the end of the contract day making sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row lesson-wise and giving your classroom another once-over to make sure it’s kid-friendly (hide the empty cans of Diet Coke you were meaning to put in the recycling, clean out a drawer so you can hide your purse inside of it, and wish you had some Clorox wipes already because there’s a definite dried streak of a booger-y snot-like substance on the aluminum frame of the bulletin board you just finished putting up, and you know it’s not yours). You want to get home at a reasonable time because, as your mother used to say, “You have a big day tomorrow.”

I do not know one teacher who has slept the night before the FDOS. Not one. Which means for teachers the FDOS is one long-ass day, and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I buy a coffee maker to put in my room? I could have hidden it inside my purse drawer!” The FDOS is surreal–you either have 30-35 names of kids to memorize, or you have 180-200 names of kids to memorize. Regardless, it’s a day when you are expected to be in charge, you’re expected to know what you’re doing, you aren’t used to going more than an hour and a half without a tinkle, and, well, you’re just plain miserable. And tired.

The weekend after the FDOS (or FWOS) is fraught with two emotions: The first, relief at being able to relax over a cup of coffee and The Pioneer Woman on Saturday morning; the second, an abysmal depression that hits you sometime Sunday afternoon because …

You have to go back to school tomorrow.

So why am I writing this when I am no longer teaching? Because, even though I have not had a weekday off work since December 12, 2011, the whole “back to school / work” malaise does not affect me. Teachers, most of whom work during the summer months weeks–they work at another job, they take classes, they participate in professional development, or they take care of their own kids–are still not burdened by the need to always be “on” as they are when they are actually teaching. I wish I could take credit for this, but I read it on another teacher’s blog: Being a teacher is like being an actor on a stage who is also responsible for writing the script, directing the play, building the set and scenery, designing and sewing the costumes, and selling the tickets–but most importantly, marketing the entire enterprise to an apathetic public. The energy it takes to be a teacher is as gargantuan as that liter container of hand sanitizer you just bought, and then some.

Why do I still care?  Because I love all of you and because, if you’ll let me, I can be your voice.  You can’t say these things publicly (especially the swear words about the superintendent and the PFO) because the Teacher Police will find you and make your life miserable.  You’re not free to vent any longer.  The Teacher Police can find me and chastise me all they want.  I don’t work for them.  So there.

The good news is that around mid-September, the dust will have settled, you and your students are into a routine, the weather will have begun to get a little crisper, there’s football, and most of all, you’re over that “back to school” period. Normalcy replaces utter exhaustion, your bladder slowly begins to accommodate an hour’s several hours’ worth of pee, and the promise of a nice bottle of Pinot Noir on a chilly Friday night makes the week go a little bit smoother.

Until the last week of school. But that’s another blog altogether.

Have a great school year, my friends!  Few people can do what you do and live to tell about it!

I swear.

I do. I’ll admit it. It’s one of my worst habits, after biting my nails–yes, my twice-monthly manicured nails.

I’ve had a potty mouth since about 1975, a year after my mother died. She used to have a potty mouth, too, but not surprisingly, when she began getting herself squared away with the Lord, she put aside her swear words, and I have to say that at the time, it was quite unsettling. Not because having a mum with a more evolved vocabulary was a bad thing, but knowing that she was shelving her words in order to be a better person was. And because my dad was the world’s all-time champion swear word utterer, I began to worry about his standing with The Almighty.

My dad took swearing to an entirely new level of intellectual prose. He eschewed the “common” language of the swearer–never, ever uttering the big kahuna of swear words–you know, the one that begins with an ‘F’ and ends with a ‘K’ (unless you changed the verb to a noun, in which case it ends with an ‘R’). No. His swearing was a patois of strung together adjectives; all colorful, threaded together by the occasional swear word. A master of both hyperbole and figurative language, my dad had the innate ability to generate a variety of words to describe one’s mother as well as one’s suspect parentage.

To wit: My dad had an ancient International Harvester Farmall tractor, bequeathed to him by his dad. To start it, he had to crank it, like an old- fashioned automobile. Then some levers had to be pulled, then pushed, then pulled again, and, if the planets were in alignment and the gods were on his side, the thing started. Most of the time, though, it didn’t. As a child, I thought the magic words to start the tractor included his long string of cursing, combined with several rich and vivid adjectives, combined with his kicking of the front tires. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

So yes, I come by it honestly. That damn apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Ironically, as a teacher, I only once made the mistake of swearing in vain: I called a kid a smartass. I meant to say “smart-aleck”, but I was way pregnant with twins, short of breath, short of patience, and had a serious case of cankles, and this kid was such a smartass that the word just flew out of my mouth before I could think. After the collective “Oo-Ee-oo!” of the other students, I got someone to watch my class of fifth graders (Oh, stop it. You’d have done the same thing if you had had that particular class of fifth graders. They were monsters.), marched down to the office, and told the principal what happened. He laughed. It was 1993–a time before principals got their panties in a wad over the shenanigans of their teachers. But I still called the kid’s mom to tell her I cussed out her son. She asked, “Well, what did he do?” I told her he back-talked me. She assured me that when he got home he was in for an ass beating–her words, not mine.

I smiled and triumphantly waddled back upstairs to my fifth graders. Prospective teachers–do not try this today. Times have changed, and you are the one who will suffer the ass beating.

Even before that incident, when I was teaching sixth graders and I had taken them camping for a week, I purposely let a swear word fly. I, along with two other milquetoast first-year teachers, were with the girls in our cabin, lights out, and I was exhausted. Not sure about the milquetoasts–they weren’t saying much–and besides, these were my kids and I was in charge. Naturally, the girls, ages 11 and 12, were all a-twitter with the excitement of being away from home for the first time with their friends. Repeated entreaties of “It’s time to stop talking, girls,” and, “Stop talking please. It’s time to go to sleep,” were of no use. Unless I took drastic measures, no one was going to sleep that first night in the woods. So I did it.

I said, very plainly and loudly, “Shut. The. Hell. Up.”

The rest of the week was just ducky.

When I taught eighth graders and the subject of connotation and denotation came up, I would proffer this lesson about swear words: Use them judiciously. You never know when you might need them. Why?
If you’re not a habitual swearer, when faced with a seemingly critical situation, you can throw in a ‘damn’ or a ‘hell’, and you’ll end up getting everyone’s eyebrow-raised attention and maybe even a little bit of respect. Swear all of the time, and those same folks will brand you as no better than the wheelman of a canal barge or some such low-life occupation. I try to remember this bit of counsel that I’ve offered to others when I, the world’s current champion swear word utterer, swear out of habit.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to remember my own damn advice.

Next month, I’ll tell the story of when I told the parents of one of my students, “Every time I try to have intercourse with your daughter, she doesn’t respond.”

Stay tuned.

DIY Fail

Cutting my own bangs, waxing my own … (never mind), attempting to apply false eyelashes fifteen minutes before a big event, washing my second floor windows from the inside of my house (with my ass hanging out of the bottom half of the window), fixing the ice maker in my freezer–these are just a few of the many DIY projects I have failed at.

That and editing a 415-page novel.

Friends who purchased The Gym Show between March 23 and April 14 may have noticed a few mistakes in the final manuscript.  I can’t describe for you the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach once even one of those mistakes revealed itself to me, not to mention the “I feel like opening a vein” reaction once I discovered there were even more.  It is painful for me to even write about it now.

When I first embarked upon this self-publishing odyssey (and make no mistake:  the fact that a title is self-published is not a derisory attribute), I contacted another self-published author Dina Silver, a friend of a friend.  I explained to her that I knew nothing about the publishing game, and I was looking for any advice she could proffer.  The one thing that she told me is that under no circumstances was I to even conceive of the notion of editing my own work.  Half of me agreed with her; the other half–the half that said, “I edit stuff for a living,”–told me that in the absence of an editor, just roll up your shirtsleeves and do it yourself.

So I did.  And Dina was right.  It came back to bite me.

I work in the QA department of a software company, and in QA, enhancements to the software must be tested over and over again, sideways, up and down, diagonally, using every scenario imaginable.  Same goes for editing.  I have learned, the hard way, that when you’re too close to something, you see it as a series of blurred lines; that is, you tend to skip over parts that you know should be one way, or you promise yourself that you’ll get back to it and fix it, and then you forget about it.  That is exactly what happened to me.

That, and I was also working full time writing and editing software manuals by day while I was writing a novel at night.  That’s a lot of words running together.

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not making excuses (for there is no excuse for grammatical errors from someone who claims to be a writer), but I will tell you that I had secured the services of an editor; however, shortly after our initial meeting, he faced a rather devastating health crisis within his family.  Understandably, his services were no longer available and rightly so.  That’s when, in a hurry to get the book out before spring break, I decided to go bareback.  I had good intentions, but, again, it ended up being a DIY fail.

So here’s my deal:  If you purchased The Gym Show between March 23 and April 14, I will make good on my promise to deliver a quality product, just like anyone who creates or delivers something.  Just like the new HVAC system we had installed in 2012 that crapped out on us yesterday, or the pair of jeans I just bought from Kohls with a missing button.  I will replace your defective product with an improved version, one that has been tested over and over again, sideways, up and down, and one of which I am very proud.

Two weeks ago, I found a scathing review of The Gym Show on Amazon.  Last night I discovered another review–not as scathing, but not very complimentary, either.  It didn’t take me long to put together the dots and discover the identities of the two individuals who wrote the reviews, not that it matters that much.

Each of the two reviewers had been well within their rights to write a review; however, the first review was just plain ugly.  And this person knows me–that’s what really sucks.  Let’s just say that it is entirely possible for me to hand deliver to both of these reviewers a more polished version of The Gym Show without the aid of a full tank of gas or a GPS.  Given the opportunity, I will do so graciously, happily, and without malice.

Now quit writing crap about my book.

And you better believe that, as with many experiences in life, I have learned several valuable lessons.  The first is never get involved in a land war in Asia; the second:  never, ever edit your own 415-page novel.

You can email me at kellyspringer126@gmail.com.

 

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The People’s Republic of Massachusetts

Every so often, I’ll have nightmares about my children being taken away from me and there is nothing that I do can get them back.  The forces that are keeping me from my children are far too powerful to negotiate with.  I can see my children, and I can hear their screams and cries for me to save them, but I’m powerless to do anything.  I awaken with wracking sobs, and it takes me a few minutes to convince my sleep conscience that it was all a bad dream and that my children are safe with me.

That is, until I read about stories such as the case of one Connecticut teenager Justina Pelletier.  Justina, according to her physician, suffers from mitochondrial disease, a rare metabolic disorder that causes extreme fatigue and a host of other symptoms affecting, among others, one’s eyesight, digestion, and muscular strength.

In February 2013, the Pelletiers, upon the recommendation of Justina’s doctor, rushed her via ambulance to Boston Children’s Hospital.  The decision to go to Boston Children’s Hospital was based upon this doctor’s recommendation to have Justina seen by a certain gastroenterologist who had just moved from Tufts Medical Center, also in Boston, to Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was a decision that resulted in the Pelletiers’ losing custody of their daughter and the beginning of their nightmare.

To make a long and tragic story short, Linda and Lou Pelletier, Justina’s parents, lost custody of their daughter because Massachusetts child-protection officials acted upon the recommendations of doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital who diagnosed the teenager with a mental disorder, disregarding her earlier diagnosis of mitochondrial disease.  The Pelletiers, the parents of this child and probably (I’m only guessing here) the people who know her best, disagreed with Boston Children’s about Justina’s diagnosis and care, so they did what any responsible adult–parent or not–would do:  They sought a second opinion.  And for that subversive behavior, they were separated from their daughter.  She was fourteen at the time.

When my daughters were fourteen, I used to toss and turn all night worrying when they would go to a friend’s for a sleepover.

You can read all about the case; however, the point that I am desperate to make is this:  Since when does the State (or in Massachusetts’ case the ‘Commonwealth’) or any agency, entity, or organization know what is better for a child than the child’s parents?

Oh, I know–believe me, I know and have been privy to several cases of parental abuse, neglect, Munchausen Syndrome, you name it.  I was a teacher, and I saw that all the time.  However, I never tried to substitute my beliefs or judgment over those of a parent.  What right did I have to tell a parent what is best for their child?

Just for fun, let’s look back in history at some other instances where “the State” has sought to overrule a parent’s judgment.  There was the infamous Hitler Youth movement where scores of German children were coerced into goose-stepping for Adolf, not to mention the obvious brainwashing happening to all those blond-haired blue-eyed kiddos.  And how could we forget those highly competitive Soviets who would send emissaries into a school in order to pick out future athletes to exploit and take them to a training facility far away from their parents?  Okay, at least they got to go to the Olympics eventually, if they didn’t end up in the salt mines of Siberia.  And there exists, even today, the numerous cases of child trafficking resulting in forced labor or sexual exploitation–state sanctioned?  Not directly, but then again, every time you buy a pair of Nikes, think about the country where those cool-looking kicks were made and little hands that made them.

“But Kelly,” you might be saying, “that’s over and done with, and that pesky child trafficking problem?  That only happens in third world countries–not here in the good ol’ U.S. of A.”

Justina Pelletier, the now sixteen year-old daughter of Lou and Linda Pelletier, who has been in custody since February 2013,  remains in the custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts–not because her parents abused her, not because she reported that her family was neglecting her, and not because she showed up at school with a wicked case of head lice and smelling like pee.  She remains in custody because of a hunch.

While in some parallel universe it may be true that Lou and Linda Pelletier have somehow sabotaged Justina’s health, why remove her from her home?  Would it not make more sense to return her to her parents under some kind of supervision?  Some follow-up care?  An agreement whereby she is seen by a psychiatrist to rule out mitochondrial disease?  No, that wouldn’t do because then several state workers would be out of a job–social workers, judges, state-sanctioned “experts”.  The big bully wins this round, and knowing that the Pelletiers are not a family of means (read:  litigation-happy), the state sentenced Justina to the psychiatric floor at Boston Children’s.  Her parents had limited visitation rights.  And that’s where I would have come completely unglued and quite possibly hurt somebody.

Today, nearly a year and a half later, Justina remains in state custody in a residential facility for troubled adolescents in Connecticut, 90 minutes from her home.  She has made repeated pleas to be returned to her parents, an altogether opposite response from what one would expect from an abused child.  As a result of their advocating for their daughter, Lou and Linda Pelletier have been branded as difficult and combative.

Difficult?  Combative?  I’d say they’ve shown remarkable restraint.  I can’t say with all certainty that if my child was being held against her will and against the will of my husband and me that there wouldn’t be somebody leaving the courtroom in a body bag.

Only in the Soviet Union America.

 

 

Maybe we should lower our standards?

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Just last week, lawmakers in my adopted state of Indiana decided that there were enough educated, trained, and experienced teachers out there, so they went ahead and opened the gates of teacher-dom to anyone with a college degree and a ‘B’ average.

I’ll get to the comparative analogies in a minute.

So, what does this new law say about the majority of teachers who matriculated through teacher training programs at accredited universities, spent countless hours observing and participating in the teaching process in classrooms with veteran teachers guiding them through their nascent lessons and interactions with children?  What does it say about the future teachers who spent upwards of two semesters student teaching at different grade levels in order to experience as much of life as an educator as possible before Pomping and Circumstancing their way across the graduation stage?  And what does it say about those who braved the interview processes at several school districts only to finally land their dream job–as a teacher’s assistant or a substitute teacher with the hopes of someday being called up to the big leagues?

And what does it say about established teachers who, on their own dime, sought out advanced degrees and certifications so that they would be not only more marketable within their school district, but more importantly, become better at their craft?  What about those who went back to graduate school to earn a special education or gifted education endorsement, a middle school or high school certification, a Master’s Degree, or a principal’s license?

I’ve done everything listed in the last two paragraphs, all while giving 25 years of my life to the State of Indiana as a teacher, both at the elementary and middle school levels, both in the rough and tumble inner-city of Indianapolis and the once tony suburb of Lawrence Township.  Most of those years were amazing; some of those years were downright awful, but in retrospect, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  That I am no longer a minion of the State of Indiana is irrelevant–what is relevant is the State of Indiana’s latest bone-headed move to lower the standards of teacher certification.

So, Indiana, while you’re at it, here’s something to chew on:  Once I had dreams of becoming an R.N.  I even applied to and was accepted into the School of Nursing at a small institution in Ohio.  However, once my father wisely reminded me that the sight of copious amounts of blood made me pass out cold, I reconsidered my options and chose to remain a teacher.  But since then, I think I’ve licked that blood thing (the passing out thing, you weirdo), and now …

I want to be a nurse.

I graduated in 1985 from Penn State University with a 3.5 GPA.  So, whaddya say, Indiana?  Can I become a nurse?  What’s that?  I have to pass a test?  No problem–I’m an excellent test taker.  Experience?  Psht!  I have three kids that came out of my body, so I think I know a little bit about being in a hospital and what it takes to be a nurse.  And the countless trips to the ER and their broken bones, stitches, and the one time my daughter Caroline drank a bottle of liquid Benedryl …yeah, I think I can handle this.  How hard can it be?  I want to be a nurse, for crying out loud, not a biomedical engineer.  Geez.

So if not a nurse, there’s another profession I’ve always thought I’d be good at:  Lawyer.  How hard can it be?  I know you have to pass a test (again–GOOD TEST TAKER HERE), and you have to be able to write well (I think I’ve got that, Scooter) and know a lot about the law and how to research laws, precedents, decisions, and stuff like that.  So, can I be a lawyer?  What, is there some exclusive club that only lawyers know about that would prevent me and may 3.5 GPA from Penn State University in Elementary and Kindergarten Education from becoming a lawyer?  Okay, so then can I go back to being a nurse?

Skills?  Special skills?  To be a nurse?  Oh, like giving shots and things.  I already know how to do that–I gave myself shots every day for the first three months I was pregnant with the Boy, so there.  There’s more?

Well, what about “on the job training”?  No?  Why not?

Okay, so maybe lawyering is a better option.  I know they read a lot.  I read a lot.  I don’t understand why I can’t be a lawyer.

“But Kelly,” you might be saying (unless you’re a teacher).  “You’re being ridiculous.  Whether you’re a nurse or a lawyer, each profession requires a particular set of skills.  Liam Neeson said so.  Really, dear, what special skills are needed to be a teacher?  Honestly, how hard can it be?”

Gee, I’d love to sit down and outline for you all of the necessary pedagogy, the extensive metacognitive skills knowledge base required, the need to have a complete understanding of P.L. 94142, the difference between an IEP and a 504, the ability to align a set of standards to instruction and an ability to document the hell out of it, the affective aspects of containing upwards of 40 children in one room at a time for an extended period and …well, I could go on and on.

How hard can it be?

Harder than you think.  Teaching requires a hell of a lot more than a 3.0 GPA and a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.

 

 

A Life Well Lived

Yesterday afternoon, after returning from a perfectly beautiful Easter picnic up at Purdue with my husband and children, I received a rather cryptic group text from some former colleagues that delivered the sad news of the death of a woman with whom I worked at Fall Creek Valley Middle School here in Indianapolis.  As with all news of this type, for me, at least, there’s a period of mental digestion, and then the memories begin to play back in my mind like the retrospective part of a movie that you know is going to make you cry at the end.

And the memories I have of Dottie Doxtator are some of the best memories I have of being a teacher.

Dottie was an instructional assistant for many severely disabled children at Fall Creek Valley, so I really began to know Dottie well when I had one of her former students in my regular English/language arts class.  I say she was Dottie’s student, because quite honestly, had it not been for Dottie, this student—we’ll call her ‘Mary’—would not have been able to do anything.  Mary was so severely disabled that she could not speak, was non-ambulatory, and could only move some of her body parts in reaction to whatever outside stimulus happened to, well, stimulate her.

I have to admit, shamefully, that I had my doubts about having Mary in my class (as if my doubts would have had any bearing on the stipulation in her IEP that mandated that she be educated in regular education classes—that’s P.L. 94142 for all of you unfamiliar with the ‘Least Restrictive Environment’ law.  Mary appeared to me to have very little grasp of the world around her, but, as you will soon learn, I was rather handily schooled about what Mary could do by none other than Mary herself.

It was the time of year when my English/language arts classes were reading the play The Diary of Anne Frank.  Dear Dottie had the idea that she could program the lines of one of the characters into a Dynavox machine (sort of like a tape recorder) that Mary could activate with her hand when it was the character’s turn to speak.

All of this was Dottie’s idea.  I was skeptical.  After all, it would be Dottie’s voice reading the character Margot’s lines, it would be Dottie prompting Mary to hit the big red button on the Dynavox to activate the recorded voice, and it would invariably be Dottie who lifted Mary’s hand to pound the Dynavox’ big red button when it was ‘Margot’s’ turn to speak.  But I had an inkling that Dottie knew what she was doing, and I was curious how this would all turn out, so I agreed.   I now wonder who I thought I was to have demonstrated such hubris.

On the day of Mary’s stage debut, I assigned the speaking parts in that day’s reading of the play to various students, and when I assigned the part of ‘Margot’ to Mary, none of the students reacted to Mary’s imminent participation.  Most of them had come to class either tired or already bored, never appearing curious about how this was all going to happen, but then again, eighth graders have perfected the attitude of blasé-ness, so I wasn’t at all surprised.

Once it was Mary’s turn to “read” her lines, though, all of that changed.  The students in the class and I watched in fascination as Mary’s face began to contort, her mouth twisting into the semblance of a smile as she began wildly gesticulating while Dottie very gently guided her hand toward the big red button.  The pre-programmed lines flowed from the device, and Mary became, in that instance, a participant in the class, a bona fide member of the eighth grade of Fall Creek Valley Middle School and demonstrated her happiness by loudly rendering whatever sounds her once dormant voice had previously held.  The other students in the class had already picked their heads up off their desks, realized what had just happened, and commenced to cheering, clapping loudly, whistling, woo-hoo-ing, then scraped back their chairs and gave their classmate Mary a standing ovation worthy of a rock star.  Some even approached her wheelchair and lifted up her hand to give her a high five.

Mary had amazed and mesmerized them, and she knew it.  In that instant, Mary became the teacher. It was as if she had said to all of us, “See?  See what I can do?”  Her face bore the look of smug satisfaction, and the vision of her smile is an indelible memory forever etched into my mind.

Naturally, I lost it.  To say that I cried is rather an understatement; I sobbed, bawled my eyes out, and to this day, when I remember Dottie’s gentle persistence, her devotion to Mary, and her determination to allow Mary to become a part of that tenuous, contentious, loud-mouthed, hormone-ravaged, beautiful, and hilarious collection of eighth grade kids, I start to cry again.

Dottie left this world yesterday along with her son Scotty, who was also, like many of the students Dottie cared for at Fall Creek Valley, cognitively disabled.  She talked about Scotty often to me and to others, always prefacing her conversation with “My Scotty.”  Her devotion to him was unparalleled, but then again that is not surprising.  When God chose Dottie to be Scotty’s mother, He knew what He was doing.

Sadly, after I left Fall Creek Valley, I lost touch with Dottie, but I will never forget her.  She remains one of the most influential people of my life because she, along with Mary, taught me that everything is possible when kindness, faith, and love are applied to a seemingly impossible situation.

Well done, good and faithful servant.  Heaven’s rewards await you and Scotty.