I made it through my first week of special ed summer school, and as a reward, came down with a case of strep throat. (Side note: if you need a new diet trick, google images for “strep throat.” Appetite will immediately disappear.) Getting sick bothered me, because as a teacher, I am somewhat proud of my immune system. I’m exposed to all kinds of germs all day, and I think after three years of teaching, I’ve built up a good defense. But the new school and the fact that the downs syndrome kid in my class, Bobby, has been using me as a human kleenex, has not helped me at all.
But his hugs are worth it.
Bobby is in school for the first time in his nine years. He is hospitalized at least four times a year for a few weeks to months because he gets very sick very often. He can’t communicate beyond a few garbled phrases. But when you walk into the room, that kid lights up like the Fourth of July. “Goo mawnin Miss WAAAAAIIII!!!” and then LOTS of enthusiastic waving from his desk where he colors and pretends to trace letters or numbers on worksheets. Every few minutes, he wanders to my table where I have the four high-end kids and shows me a purple letter D. He can’t tell me what letter it is, but he traced it and is proud. I make a big deal, and he throws his arms around me and laughs and laughs and wipes snot and drool into my ribcage.
He’s pretty funny, too, because when the aide that works with him tells him to take his hands out of his nose or his pants or cover his sneeze, he turns back to her and shakes his finger and pretends he’s talking back to her. Trouble with a capital T!
Bobby and two others can’t verbally express themselves very well. In our room there is a lot of grunting, groaning, rocking, bouncing, squealing, sneezing. It’s kinda weird at first and funny all the time. Also, my table thinks farting is hilARious. Which led to an awesome conversation:
Alberto leans sideways and let one go. The other three dissolve into giggles. I fight the urge to laugh.
Miss Weight: “Alberto! You don’t do that in front of a lady!”
Alberto: “Whats a lady?”
Miss Weight: “I’m a lady!”
Nick: “No, you’re the new teacher girl.”
Trav: “I like the new teacher girl!”
Alberto: “Estuse you.”
I really didn’t know what to expect walking into this summer. Not getting paid is a bummer…but I am finding it a lot more personally rewarding than my normal job. I’m trying to explore what that means. What I normally teach is unique – Latin in a very academic private Christian junior high. My students are mostly white, middle to upper class. Parents are super involved, in good and sometimes crazy ways. We are a very close knit staff. My students take Latin as a required course, but I think only about 5% actually appreciate the subject. I think most of them like it just because I teach it and try to make it stand-up comedy with a lot of language learning. I don’t think many of them know how lucky they are to get the education they are receiving, or the loving environment in which they are receiving it. They might figure it out later.
But the kids I’m teaching now…I don’t see any parents because they come by bus, so I have no idea what their home life is like. Granted, I’m just a four week summer school, so I’m not going to do conferences or see cum files. But all of my kids are on free breakfast and lunch. They come in dirty clothes, with dirty backpacks that have nothing in them. But they come smiling and excited to see me and to do school work. They ask me to play on the playground with them. And learning is hard for them, so when they do get something right, like Trav working on subtraction by using little bears as models and finally figuring out 5-2=3, I have to fight back tears because of his joy. And I feel appreciated and proud and loved.
I was so worried I wouldn’t know what to do, but they’re just normal kids with special needs. Alberto, for instance, steals Damion’s pencil every day. He’s really sly about it. And then he asks, on repeat until we pay attention to him, “Damion, where yo pencil? Where yo pencil? Where yo pencil? Teacher, where his pencil?” The first time, I figured Damion had somehow lost it, and got him a new one. As I walked back to the desk, Alberto looked at me, and then chucked the hidden pencil at Damion. “Were you hiding that the whole time?!” I asked. “Yed,” he said. And I laughed and laughed and called him a stinker, which he thought was hilarious.
And I thought about them this weekend. I wondered how they were doing. If they were safe and well fed and being taken care of at home. I thought about how Devin grabbed for my hand on the way to the bus. I asked him, “What are you going to do this weekend?” “Ima go to church. Might make me a sandwich if I get me the chance.” And then he launched into a monologue from “Monsters, Inc.” Bunch of funny kids.
It’s exhausting, but I’m liking it so far. As usual, surviving on coffee, naps, frozen yogurt, and wine. And Pinteresting cute pictures of babies holding puppies and eating cupcakes and wishing on shooting stars. And blogging my feelings. :)