An NZ teacher writes:
I’m having a remembrance day.
I remember sitting on a couch with a boy who was around six. He was drawing a purple cat under a turquoise scribbly sky. He had dark hair and deep brown eyes. His teacher was across the room from us. Not too far. She said- so very vehemently – “I don’t want him in my class” and pointed at the boy next to me. He lifted his head. Looked at his teacher. Looked at me. I was reeling in shock at the outright rejection I’d just heard so he probably noticed that the smile I gave him – that was meant to be reassuring – was quite wonky.
I remember standing in a long and narrow “resource room” of a secondary school with the head of the English department and a curly haired, hugely built, usually tall but at that moment curve shouldered and stooped teenager. The same teenager that had written me a naïve but still detailed with understanding sympathy card when he had found out my father had died. The HOD was rifling through a grey filing cabinet, outlining all the ways the teenager was failing. She gave me his behavioural contract (lots of red marks and red pen comments from an assortment of teachers.) She gave me unfinished assignments. I recognised the student’s penciled printing and could easily imagine him writing every letter sooooo carefully. She gave me pristine textbooks with relevant pages marked and “The Diary of Anne Frank” which she wanted the teenager to summarise. She kept saying “He needs to take responsibility for this poor performance” and she gave me a deadline for when everything she was shoving my way was due in for him. I was feeling like I’d just been tackled by someone not unlike Jonah Lomu, so the teenager probably noticed the wobble of my voice as I faux merrily said “Do you want to grab all that stuff, mate……my bag is full of lollies and booze……”
I remember walking with a child from my class after school. A colleague came up to me. Very upset. Telling me very loudly in front of the child from my class that one of my other students shouldn’t be allowed at our school. She could see how this child “just didn’t belong with us”. She had seen how this child behaved. She had told the mother of this offensive student that her daughter shouldn’t be here. She was on the way to tell the principal that the child needed to go. I looked at the student from my class. She looked at me questioningly. Then looked down at the ground. So she missed my fake wink – again supposed to reassure that at least one of the adults on the scene wasn’t going to go nuclear.
All these young people I was so, so privileged to work with and have in my life for a while had special needs. And they were all treated so badly.
In my time in special education – and mainstream – I have heard and seen monstrously unfair things. Things so cruel they made me revert to the question children ask of each other when they can’t believe an injustice they’ve just been dealt. “Why are you being so mean?”
I’m a full grown adult – yeah, all altruistic and “overly emotive” (actual quote) – but I still ask “Why are they being so bloody mean?”
As an adult I know – The teacher who didn’t want the child with ADHD and Autism in her class was getting no ongoing support or understanding from her management team.
The HOD had no understanding of the teenager’s diagnosis. She had no idea what to do with him. She was hyper aware of the judgment that was being flung her way over the failing mark in her departmental bell curve of achievement that the teenager represented.
The colleague that was railing at me was also ignorant. And scared. And angry about something that probably wasn’t even to do with me or my student. I can’t rightly say what her exact issue was.
What I can say is that when I first saw and heard these monstrous things and felt like I’d been punched in the solar plexus, a part of me thought “I’ll probably get used to this.”
Yesterday – for reasons long and complicated – a person who has also been in special education for a long time walked into my mainstream classroom. I was relieved to see her. From the moment she started talking I realized how long I’d been worrying for, fighting for and trying to protect this particular student and her parents from “the mean people.”
It was like seeing the cavalry coming.
I can’t describe the relief.
It was only yesterday I figured out that as an “overtly emotive” person I’m never going to get over the shock of people willfully and fearfully misunderstanding others and trying to punish them and isolate them instead of trying to address their own ignorance.
It ALWAYS sucks when people are treated this way , and I will always, always remember it.
~ Secret Teacher NZ