The last two victories don’t really fall into the same categories as the other four. One might have been a small victory had I been able to complete it; the other wasn’t so much of a creative solution to a problem, but a willingness to make a sacrifice to reward a successful outcome.
Bob’s difficulty was that he was a severe stutterer. He was diagnosed at an early age. It made it very difficult for him to participate in the discussions that went on in the class. My class being more of a discussion oriented class might not have been the best placement for him. He had speech multiple times a week as a pull-out by the district’s speech teacher. She helped him work on word formation and strategies to aid his speaking, but in the classroom I saw little improvement in how he felt about himself. Our class learned a lot that year about being tolerant and accepting, about being patient by letting him complete his thoughts which I hope improved his self-image. People were able to listen to him respectfully without trying to finish off all of his sentences. I had no problem talking to Bob about his stuttering; I wanted him to feel okay with it rather than ashamed or embarrassed. I wanted to do something more. As it turned out the principal of the primary school in our district was a stutterer himself. I thought it would be interesting if I could get Bob to meet with this principal on a regular basis just to have someone to talk to that he could relate with and who would also be a good role model. I met with the principal and worked out a schedule whereby, Bob, would be transported over to the primary school to meet with the principal for about an hour a week.
All went well for a while. Bob was feeling really good about himself and was participating more in our class. I was seeing great strides in his performance. Then came the day that our Child Study Team (CST), composed of our principal, special education teachers, school psychologist, the district special education administrator, and me met with the parents to make recommendations for the following year. The recommendation was to classify Bob as a severe stutterer. What this would do, would be to guarantee that Bob would get the services he needed to help him with his handicap in the following year. The parent’s went ballistic. They did not want him labeled. They had research that showed that 80% of all stutterers grow out of their stuttering by adolescence. They were convinced that Bob was in that 80%. They also used as examples things that they had grown out of as children. They were convinced that we had lied to them and that focusing on his stuttering was detrimental to his “cure.” They insisted that all services he was receiving, which included his visits to the Primary School, and talking about his stuttering with him, were to be stopped. They closed the barn door. We had very little recourse. Pretty much all gains that I had made stopped at that point.
He was a 4th grader, so I only got to see him in our school for one more year after he left my class. I didn’t see much change before he went to the Middle School. Whether or not he did outgrow his stuttering, I have no idea, as we lost touch pretty much from the day he left my class. I hope he did well and that we were wrong, though at the time I was convinced we were headed in the right direction.
Paula was a good student. She had no handicaps or difficulties in school. I taught a 4th and 5th grade inter-age class, meaning half my class were 4th graders, the other half 5th graders. The 5th graders would graduate to the middle school, while most of the 4th graders would become 5th graders in my class as a new crop of 4th graders entered. Paula was one of my 4th graders this particular year. She was very popular. One of the projects that I did with my class starting around April was called trip planning. It was the task of the class to plan out an end of the year trip. They had to research and decide on the venue, how we would get there, how to raise funds to offset some of the costs, and the itinerary for the trip. My job other than facilitating all this was to make the final reservations and logistics for the actual trip. During this process the class learned a lot about making phone calls, writing letters, making decisions (by collaboration and consensus) and becoming independent planners. The first part of the process was electing three leaders to organize the whole project. One overall leader (either a boy or girl) and two assistant leaders (one boy and one girl). These leaders would meet regularly with me as their facilitator in getting tasks accomplished. Paula was one of those leaders.
She worked exceptionally hard to organize the class and get the work done that was needed to make this end of the year trip a reality. In the end, it was decided to go to the Bronx Zoo as a full day trip. There is great growth that occurs during the process of planning and implementing a trip. Remember that these students were 9-11 year-olds. The leaders gain the most, especially when it is a success. Paula was looking forward to this trip. It was her reward for a job well done. It was the weekend before the trip was to take place that I got a call from Paula’s mother, saying that Paula was in tears. She apparently broke her toe and didn’t think that she would be able to go on the trip, which would require a lot of walking, even with her mother as chaperone. I felt terrible and decided that there must be a workaround to this problem. I’m sure if this were the case nowadays, I would have called the Bronx Zoo and checked to see if they had wheelchairs available for use with Paula, however back then it never even crossed my mind. Paula was one of the taller girls in my class, even as a 4th grader, but was rather lanky and I was sure didn’t weigh that much. I spoke with her mother and convinced her that both she and her daughter should go on the trip. I said that if we couldn’t find another way, I would piggyback Paula throughout the zoo and that is exactly what we did. For most of the walking, I carried Paula on my shoulders. Her mom carried my knapsack and spelled me at times; we had a great day. I was a little sore at the end of the day, but felt really good that I had come up with a way for someone who had put her heart into planning and executing an event to be a full participant in the final product.
As I said when I began this, students are not going to tell you that any particular day is the one when you can reach them. As a teacher you have find those days; you have to find creative ways to foster those days; and you have to take the small victories as they come even if you don’t get exactly to where you want to be. That is where you get to be the one piggybacked and feeling of success. It’s why we chose to be teachers.