Thursday, August 12, 2010

"You're my daughter's teacher?"

It's that look of condescension that a parent gives to a teacher. A teacher who is definitely not qualified to teach her kid. A teacher who is a first year teacher with absolutely no training in education. It's me she's looking at. Why me, God, why me?

She's so intense and she brings her mother along with her. The grandmother is even more intense. A veteran teacher in Prince George's county public schools. This woman knows a good teacher. She knows that I'm not going to be good enough for Amy, and she's right. "Are you trained in ABA?" To which I reply, "What does ABA stand for again?" They looked pissed, actually more than pissed. They look like the second they leave this parent/teacher conference they are going to call their attorney. And of course, that’s exactly what they do.

I worked for attorneys during undergrad to help pay for my degree. They used to scare me because well, they passed the bar and went to law school. Attorneys stopped scaring me after I had worked for them for almost 5 years off and on at different firms. With all their quirks, they just started seeming like normal people, and normal people don't scare me. They just get on my nerves. So, until I started teaching special education students, frightening attorneys were no longer a phobia of mine.

Well, that's until Amy's attorney started harassing my special education coordinator about my credentials. Let me first explain to you what a special education coordinator is. It's a person who is in charge of scheduling meetings, sending out the appropriate letters to parents about meetings, scheduling testing for students, filing appropriate documents, and the list goes on but would bore you so I’ll stop. My special education coordinator did none of those things. She left that all to the special education teachers. What she did do was lie like a snake at meetings about the services the students were not receiving. And to defend teachers with no credentials, like me. She could’ve been an ally, if I didn’t hate her so much.

Speaking of integrity, you should know I try not to lie at all costs, especially when it comes to the kids. When a parent would ask if a student was receiving occupational therapy, and said occupational therapist had quit two months ago, I couldn't lie about that. It's on the Individualized Education Program (IEP from now on). That's a legal document. I don't like to lie, and I really don't like to lie when it comes to the law.

So, back to the conference with Amy's mom. Who the hell was I fooling? The mom knew, the grandmother knew, and I knew. They could see right through my politeness and pantsuit. They were going to be problems. Their precious Amy was going to be an even bigger problem.

And this is how Amy and I met. On the first day of school, I was supposed to have two aides assisting in the day-to-day operations of an autism classroom. I had none. No one. Well, when Amy's mom came and saw that I had no one, she decided to stay all day and help out. She judged my every move. Everything I planned turned to, well, there's no nice way of putting this: It turned to shit. I had no idea what to do with the kids. I floundered my way through everything that day. Of course, driving home I was in tears and was ready to quit.

Amy wasn't potty trained. She was a brat on all fronts. A mean little six-year-old child, who didn't have any manners and always tried to take off her clothes (she was a stripper in the making). She had little panda ears, and I'm not referring to her ears, I'm referring to the two little bun pigtails she wore at the top of her head. The head that was never brushed or washed. It made her look like a panda bear. It was quite endearing in its own way. Now, I never said it, but one of my aides later on would describe Amy's hair as "nappy." It was really bad.

I learned quickly that with Amy it was going to be a battle of the wills. She vs. me. The panda bear versus the inept special education teacher. Well, Amy, I'm not going down without a fight. And that's exactly what happened every single day from the cafeteria to the classroom, Amy and I would fight. It'd be 8:45 in morning and there we'd be fighting against each other to get to the classroom. I'd pull, she'd pull back. I pushed, she pushed back. Some days I tried picking her up, but that always ended in her kicking and eventually wiggling out. She was a willful child; I'll give her that.

I hated those mornings. By “those” I mean the 180 mornings that I fought with Amy. Well, at the very least 90. I would dread mornings with Amy, get physically ill thinking about fighting her all the way to the classroom. Some days I would call out sick, just because the mere thought of fighting her was too much to bear, or should I say panda bear.

Some mornings, there'd be Ms. Sunshine and her perfect class of kindergarteners all in a line, and there would be me and Amy tussling around. Me, sweating up a storm; Amy, kicking, punching, screaming, and crying. You would think I was beating the child. It was embarrassing to say the least. That's when I would get another look of condescension. "Oh, you poor thing, you don't know how to control your students." Yeah, sure, you try controlling this thing. This Amy monster panda bear thing. Just try, I give you five minutes and you'll be screaming for your precious general education students. Your so-called "normal" kids. Uggh.

So, that's how our tumultuous relationship started. Amy ended up being my very special, my very favorite student that year. But it took awhile to know and understand her. She had to get used to me, had to trust me. I would also have to trust her and believe that in some strange way she would change my life.

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