After I sort of accidentally got into the area of special education, except for one year , I spent the next twenty years in this field. Actually it became the “School of Special Education”, and I couldn’t get out and teach a regular grade. I guess I should never have obtained my specialist in Special Education.
I spent many years at Joyceville in my “Ungraded” special education classroom. We were lucky, because at first, our class was not actually recognized. So we got to put the children in it that we felt would benefit, and actually were able to return some of them to regular grades after a year or two. There was no curriculum, so I made it up. I had about twelve students, ages 8 to 14.It was like teaching several grades in my one-room school. It was very basic. I covered arithmetic, reading, writing stories – always important to me – a bit of science, a lot of music and physical education as well as personal care.
I made a discovery one year. When I got to school in August. the only slot available for phys. ed. was first thing in the morning, so I took it for every day, not the two or three times a week as was usual. We started every day with activity, and had the best year ever! I had proven that movement enhances learning. I also used a lot of music. One thing I didn’t even realize until after, that it was very different from the norm, was when I divided them in three groups, found a little record player for each group, and several LPs of classical music. They were to come up with some type of story, using the music. I will never forget the one where they used excerpts from Pyer Gynt Suite ( I just KNOW I’ve got that completely wrong) They had it as a cowboy story, around a camp fire, which they had made out of tissue paper. It was amazing how they had everything coordinated. When they were ready , we invited the principal (who also was my mother!) to come to see our productions. The inspector just happened to be there, and came to. He was really impressed that these kids, supposedly slow learners, could do this. That is when I realized something unusual had happened.
One unusual thing I did was having Lloyd build me a 3×3 guinea pig pen, which we put on top of old desks. They were ideal – clean, no odour, couldn’t climb!, easily looked after. The children loved them, and looked after them. I had one boy who would get himself into rages and he started taking one of the guinea pigs and hold it on his lap ,pet it and rock in my old rocking chair. At first it would be rather frantic rocking, and gradually slow down. Then he would get up, return the guinea pig to the pen and get back to work.
During these years, I had our second child – Cynthia Laurene (Cindy) in 1972. What a difference 7+ years can make. Not only did I NOT have to resign, I could teach as long as I wanted. I taught until March Break, she was born April 8, and I returned to teaching in June. I was allowed three unpaid months. I will always remember when teachers started paying into employment insurance – January, 1972. You had to have paid into it for ten months before you could claim coverage. I was so annoyed, I kept threatening to have another baby because I knew I would never claim it any other way!
Also, during these years the last addition was build, and I got a real classroom, and the teachers now had a room, and did not have to sit in the room where all the supplies were kept! I had the fun of designing the room. By then, we were as a recognized special education program, and there was funding to set up the room. I had three long cupboard on casters built which together were the length of the room. There were electric strips along that wall, so I could plug in where ever I wanted. There were slanted shelves in which to store art work, and materials. It was a dream.
One very unusual thing was the make up of my class – I had several older girls. We learned to do comparison shopping using flyers from grocery store, learned to read recipes, and even made our lunch every other Friday. This was mostly the girls’ lesson, but the boys were involved as well. We would sit down on Monday and decide what food we had to work with, and decide what the meal would be on Friday. One would say her/his mom said she had potatoes , another carrots, sometimes a piece of meat. I bought a lot of stuff , and the principal (Mom) would often supplement our food. One time she bought us a little ham. We baked it, the next week used the bones, and pieces of meat and had bean soup. We also made bread! One unit was exploring the difference in taste, cost and convenience of cooking vegetables or baking cakes from scratch or purchased. It was so much fun.
I was not happy when the powers-to-be had decided to set up some new experimental program in a few schools, one in a neighbouring school, and who do you suppose they chose to be the teacher, despite my reluctance. I left my class – everyone in tears – and headed to my next experience. Right from the beginning I did not like the fact I no longer had my own class- no one to say, “That’s my teacher ” My job title was S.E.R.- special education resource teacher. Years later after the program was used all over, I went into a meeting as a S.E.R. teacher and came out as a L.P.S. teacher – Learning Program Support.This was to help people understand that “Special” does not always mean learning problems. One year I went from working with kindergarten and grade one children who were obviously going to have problems, get in my car, drive to the main school and teach grade nine math to four very bright grade eight students. I almost had to give my self a shake to go from ‘slow’ to ‘fast’! I would either work in the classroom to help the teacher, or take some children out to work with me – once more in the Teacher’ Room. Later the little satellite schools were closed.
I had been trying to get out of special education and back to regular classes. My principal understood, and was trying to help, when he was told to ” keep his hands off the School of Special Education.” The problem was I had the qualifications and experience. I did manage to teach grade three for one year, and when they tried to put me back in Sp. Ed., I took a half time leave to complete my degree, and was a LPS teacher the other half of the time. After a few more years as a resource teacher, I finally got my own class, albeit a primary special ed. class in another school.
This was a real cultural shock. I went from a school where the children came from mostly middle and upper class families to an inner city school where the majority were on assistance! I had eight children – ages 8 to 10. Multiply that by 5, and that’s what it was like. All but one came from the same type of family. In that school, many in each class had problems learning. What got them entry into my class was behaviour! Well. I wanted a class of my own!
I spent the next three years in that room with the most wonderful children. Once they realized my expectations, for the most part they were well behaved. I told them they couldn’t help having problems learning to read, but they certainly could help how they behaved, especially when walking in the hall, and I would accept NOTHING else! They worked hard, made the best possible progress. One time a new teacher commented on how lucky I was to have a well behaved class as most weren’t like mine. I could feel myself bristling, but another teacher said she should have seen them when I first started! He saved me from saying something probably a bit rude!
I did some of the same things as with my first class. We did baking, and I talked the teacher of the senior special class into making a Christmas dinner. We had the whole thing. There was some food they had never seen! My class had made rolls and pumpkin and apple pie. We had an inspector, two special ed. consultants, the principal and vice principal serving the food! It was a great success. The children were so pleased with what they had done.
One of the biggest changes teaching in this area was their reaction to special things I did for them. The first Hallowe’en party, I didn’t ask the children to bring food because I knew they really couldn’t afford it. There were times they themselves didn’t have enough food. So I made up a plate for each – celery with cheese whiz, several kinds of sandwiches. pickles, cheese squares and cookies. They ate hardly anything ! I went to the principal in puzzlement. He started to laugh and said they were taking it home to show what their teacher had done for them! I suspect they also shared the food. They absolutely loved anything done for them.
That is when I started wearing bright coloured clothes and big earrings. They would come up and touch them with big smiles on their faces.
One time we made rice krispie squares. The next day one girl came and said her mother wanted the recipe. I was about to tell her to look at the recipe on the box, when I realized she probably couldn’t read it! So I printed it out on a big recipe card, made sure the girl could read it, and sent it home.
One day, we were not having a good day. One girl was out of it, running around the room screaming. I was standing in the door so she couldn’t “escape”. Two other boys decided this would be a good time to hit each other. I thought to myself, ” I gave up nights and summer holidays to get my degree and specialist for this?” I started to laugh! Brenda stopped running around, Walter and Ricky stopped fighting, the whole class staring at their teacher laughing so hard. I told them what I had been thinking. They sat down and started to work. I am sure they were thinking I got along so well with them because I was as bad as they were!
My principal liked to be in control of everything, and we often had some nose-to-nose confrontations. But, there was one area where he let me be in charge and that was the yearly interview with the parents on the achievements of the year, and goals for the next. I believe we both came from home that were short of money and I think he tried to act rather stiff and formal to hide it, and in no way wanted the community to know his roots. As those of you who know me will confirm, I couldn’t act stiff and formal if my life depended on it. I had lots of family and friends who still had problems, and I just talked to the parents as if I was their next door neighbour. I didn’t think anything of it! The principal said in all the years he had been there, he had never heard them talk so much, and really listen. This was one of the few times he told me in person he approved!
I had paid into a self-funded leave. I took 80%pay each year, and the fifth year I received the 80% that had been invested by the Board and had a year’s leave. This was the year they decided to close many of the spec.ed contained classes, and since I was leaving my class got the axe. I was furious, and when the consultant came to tell me, I asked him how he could make that decision without ever visiting my class. He said not all classes were like mine. I was not particularly polite when I retorted, “Then get rid of the teachers, not the classes” Oh they loved me!
I could not have stayed there too long anyway, or I’d have burned out. It was just too all consuming. I think I cared too much, and didn’t have the ability to hold back some of me for my sanity as many of the others could.
So. June of 1985 was the end of my years in special education….. on to my last ten years.