How School Broke My Heart

Everybody Has a Story

Talk to anyone, and no matter how great their childhood memories are, everyone can come up with some story of heartache caused by something at or about school. It might have been a mean teacher or a school bully . Maybe it was anxiety over some subject, grade or test. Whenever I thought about mean teachers I alway remembered Mrs. Murphy my 3rd grade teacher. She used to poke us in the shoulder and it hurt. But I never felt real heartache until I became a teacher and then school broke my heart.

It wasn’t a bully or a physical threat. It wasn’t done to me personally. It was having to stand by while blind, stupid bureaucracy hurt the kids I loved.

I taught Special Ed.

Those of you who have read my previous posts know that for a few months, while I was working on my Masters Degree in Education, I took over a Special Ed. class whose regular teacher had taken a job at a different school. There are two important facts to get here: I wasn’t credentialed in Special Ed., and it was a very challenging job on many levels.

I did have two teaching credentials (Multiple Subject i.e. trained in all subjects so I could teach elementary school; and Single Subject Life Sciences i.e. qualified to teach high school Biology and other life sciences). I did have Special Ed. training. I just didn’t have a Special Ed. credential. This will be important.

The Challenges

These kids were so lovable yet very low functioning (see Every Child Can Learn? and The Standing Desk). I have written that I have the patience of 10,000 holy men and I needed it. I had two adult ‘assistants’ to help with the load of dealing with eight kids labeled ‘severely disabled’ (severe autism, Tourette’s syndrome, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and more).  These kids faced intense learning challenges.  I was teaching these adolescents things like: how to use a stove without burning themselves, how to use a public restroom safely, or how to count – very basic life skills. I needed all the help I could get. Actually my assistants were every bit as qualified to teach these kids as I was. They just didn’t have any teaching credentials. But they were loving and patient with the kids and we all got along great.


We became a sort of family, Mr. D, his two adult female assistants and our eight special kids. When we weren’t feeding the kids or teaching them how to be safe around a stove we were doing our best to teach simple academics. When it was time to use the restroom we had to go in with them to keep them from reaching into the toilets and to remind them to wash their hands (see: School is Funky). And when they would become upset, cry or throw a tantrum we were there to calm them and comfort them. And they could become upset very easily because the world was very confusing to them.

They were so confused by the world around them that they had a special bus that would pick them up at their homes and drive them to school. At the end of the day, the bus would take them all home. But unlike with regular kids, the bus driver was not allowed to let a kid off the bus if there wasn’t a designated adult waiting there to walk the kid home (yet another example of how challenged and low functioning these kids were). The bus driver earned four hours of overtime one day when Deanna’s mom didn’t show up and the bus driver had to take Deanna to the local police station and wait for four hours with her until her mom could be located.

Don’t you judge my kids – or me!

I happened to proudly tell an elitist acquaintance (NOT a friend) of mine about my assignment and to seek commiseration about Deanna’s story and my acquaintance said, “That doesn’t speak very well about what the school thinks of your teaching. Couldn’t you get a good job teaching normal children?” It was one of the few times in my life when I was at a loss for words. Well, actually I wasn’t at a loss, but my mother always taught me that it was impolite to start screaming obscenities in someone else’s home. At least my kids weren’t there to suffer the misplaced high and mighty attitude of my acquaintance. It took the school district to really make them suffer.

June: End of the Semester

When the semester ended in June, I wasn’t given any information as to what would happen to my kids. Technically I wasn’t their regular teacher so the school was under no legal obligation to inform me. I figured they would get a regular Special Ed. teacher. So on the last day of class I said my good byes. I figured I’d be subbing back there soon during the summer and I’d stop by their room and say hi.

I couldn’t stay on as their teacher because I was ‘only a sub’ and I didn’t have a Special Ed. teaching credential.

I was asked to stay on (for the summer) as a substitute and take over an ESL (English as a Second Language) class in which the regular teacher had suddenly quit. Actually, he left the teaching profession and moved up to Las Vegas to become a Black-Jack dealer.

“Say, It Ain’t So!”

I showed up bright and early on the first day of summer school and walked to the office to sign in. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but my eight little Special Ed. angels sitting on a bench in the hall outside the office. Each kid had looks of terror and distress stamped on their faces. It was pitiful to behold. So, of course, I asked them what they were doing in the hall. They were unable to articulate a clear answer.

I stormed into the office and demanded of no one in particular, what were those Special Ed. kids doing out in the hall and why weren’t they in class.

I was told that these kids were transferred to another school which had a credentialed Special Ed. teacher. But somehow the bus drivers weren’t told and they brought the kids to their usual destination (our school), dropped them off and left. A bus was coming to take them to their new school for the summer.

So there they were, eight, terrified, confused, special needs children sitting and awaiting they knew not what. What really made me furious was the fact that the school and the district hadn’t planned well enough to give me a heads up as to what would happen to my kids so I could prepare them mentally for the change. It would be a change they would find very upsetting even if warned, but to have it go down without any warning?

I tried to explain

I went out to the kids and tried to explain what was going on. It was one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had. Not only did they have great difficulty understand what was happening at all, they were also very upset about why it was happening. From the looks on their faces to the pain in their voices it was all I could do not to start crying.

“But why aren’t you our teacher? Did we do something? Why do we have to leave? Why? Why? Why?”

I did finally have to walk away. It was 8 AM and there were 35 ESL students waiting for me. It felt like I was abandoning my own flesh and blood. I later went home and cried. School broke my heart.

If you liked this blog post, I’m sure you’ll like my book

What Happened to David

Paperback now available at Vroman’s Bookstore

and on PayPal and Amazon

eBook available on Kindle, iBook, Nook and most eBook retailers

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