Josh fought back his tears as much and as long as he could this particular morning. Just as he did each morning for the better part of third grade. In spite of his efforts to be both strong and brave, the push-pull of his emotions eventually overwhelmed him and consequently, the tears followed… Just like every other morning.
Josh’s third grade year was horrible! It started bad and got worse…
I knew something was wrong when I was taken to task by Josh’s mainstream teacher for Josh missing school early in the year. I received a somewhat sternly worded letter probing as to why Josh had been absent. It seemed odd considering I had spoken with his teacher not once, but twice to inform her that Josh would be out of class for several days during the third week of school.
Josh had been granted a “wish” by the Sunshine Foundation which is the original wish granting organization in the United States. It was a wonderful, all expenses covered trip to the Florida theme parks for a total of four days. It was extremely generous, graciously appreciated and something he/ we needed and thoroughly enjoyed.
In addition to letting her know Josh would be absent, I asked for work for him to do while we were traveling. While she said she would gather things up for him to do, the last day of school before our departure, his folder came home empty.
Periodically I would either need somebody to drop off or pick up Josh from school due to some scheduling conflict or else they had the time and desire to so they would take care of his transportation for the day. These people included Josh’s mom, Aunt Joann, Aunt Celine, Grandma and my office manager. As time passed, I got unsolicited feedback from each of them, independent of the others. Each of these people asked the same type of question of me… Is Josh’s teacher always like that? And/ or comments in the arena of… She seems kind of negative, mean, unkind.
It seemed odd that so many people were having a similar experience. It wasn’t just me having this experience. It was literally everyone who came in contact with her who was connected to our family. Was it our family? No it wasn’t. It seemed to me, seeing her daily, as I got Josh settled into the classroom and picked him up from the classroom, that she treated pretty much everybody the same way. The fact that Josh couldn’t read and only barely write his name seemed particularly poignant. It was black and white obvious that he needed help.
If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…
This became draining for both Josh and I. He wrestling with his emotions every day when he already had so many extra challenges and demands placed on him due to the injury. And I wrestling intellectually with how in the world does someone behave like this day in and day out?
I had trapped myself by asking the wrong question. “Why” is often a crippling question to ask regarding someone’s behavior. I believe we ask “why” because we can’t make sense of the other persons behavior. It’s not something we would do so why would they? It’s the wrong question because there may not actually be a good answer. Sometimes it’s just who they are and it’s just how they behave.
It was the same everyday. Walk Josh into class and have him comply with the classroom routine of hanging up backpack and coat, handing in assignments, grab required work, sit down at desk, get to work and then be completely ignored by the teacher. To the point that Josh didn’t want to go to school.
Teaching is a tough job and there are almost as many different needs in the classroom as their are children. I get that. But not every child has a brain injury, or autism, or downs syndrome. Not every child needs the extra attention that a special needs child requires. And I would bet the house that any child aware of their extra challenges, doesn’t necessarily want them. And FYI – They certainly don’t want to make your life more difficult as a result!
I kept putting mile markers out there. We just need to get to Halloween… We just need to get to Thanksgiving… We just need to get to Christmas break… Maybe things will improve. Maybe she will get over whatever it is that is contributing to her negative treatment of Josh, and others. Certainly a teacher would not leave a child in this state daily and not at least be curious as to why this child is in tears. Ultimately I couldn’t make sense of it.
Josh was aware enough that he had responsibilities, and while he wanted to comply, he needed assistance with everything. Absolutely everything. What he got was indifference. As a result, he was set up for failure as opposed to success. Mrs. X chose to ignore Josh’s challenges and deny him the assistance he so desperately needed.
By the beginning of February, and I admit that I waited far to long to take care of this problem, I couldn’t take it anymore. This morning, like nearly every previous morning for almost four months Josh cried. This day was going to be different though. If she wasn’t going to help him, I was. After I get Josh settled in to his desk and the bell had rung, I knelt down beside him and started to help him with his school work.
After a couple of minutes Mrs. X walks over and stands over me with her arms crossed looking down her nose and asks me, “Can I help you?” I looked her square in the eyes and said, “No. But you could help my son. He can’t read and therefore cannot work independently. He needs help. Every day he comes in here crying because he feels lost!” She gave me a disgusted look, said, “I’ll help him,” started shuffling papers.
I stood up, walked out and went straight to the office to speak with the principal. I was furious and I let him know. How could anybody day after day ignore any child who needed so much help? How could anybody be so oblivious to a persons needs as to leave them in tears day after day for months without doing something about it? After a good thirty minutes of ranting, his solution was for me to talk to Josh’s teacher.
Not exactly what I expected. Certainly not what I would have done had that been my employee.
I set up the meeting for a couple of days later. When we had our visit, I calmly brought up all my concerns. Her response was to tell none of it was intentional. That she would never ignore a child in purpose. That she loved kids. She then told me how she was in a little fender bender once and that her daughter was in the car at the time. That her daughter was about the same age as Josh was when he got hurt. She then started crying.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Somehow her fender bender where nobody was hurt could equate to a hit-and-run with two semi-trucks where somebody nearly dies. And even though Josh survived, he was left with permanent disabilities. I gave her a moment to compose herself after re-living her traumatic event and said to her, “Surely if you are this upset over a car accident where nobody was hurt, you could understand how I feel when Josh was left with a brain injury he will never fully recover from.”
The good news is that Mrs. X did make an attempt to be more attentive to Josh from that meeting on. The bad news is Josh never really trusted her again. She had poisoned the well with her indifference and left a permanent impression on Josh.
Several years later, the mother of one of my students commented to me how her son was having difficulty at school. A couple of questions later I find out her son was in third grade and attending the same school Josh was at when he was in third grade. Guess who the teacher was?