Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Santa Fe Day 2: A day in the life of a special ed teacher.

I went to visit Dad at work today.

Dad these days is a Science co-teacher of Special Ed for high schoolers.

Today was parent teacher day at the school.

I pulled up to the school and this is what I saw: Dad chatting to some woman sitting in her car.

I parked my car, and went over to see if this woman was a co-worker or a friend of Dad's. I saw a teenage boy sitting in the backseat.

Dad was trying to get the woman to come back into the school. She was angry but finally agreed and Dad went to get back up. Meanwhile Dad has not acknowledged me at all. I knew this was serious.

I followed the woman/Angry Mom inside to the school lobby - now this was pretty awkward as she had just BITCHED my father out- I mean what do you do?  I wanted to yell at her and say don't yell at my father! HOW DARE YOU?! But I thought, I'm at HIS job, and this is a parent with HER son.

Be polite, be polite, be polite.

So, I said to her: I know it's hard.

She softened and at the same time unleashed. I told her the man she was yelling at was my Father. I told Angry Mom, look, he cares, he's against the same bureaucratic nonsense, just on a different level.
Angry Mom told me: I know it's not his fault, he has nothing to do with this. I'm just angry at this school.

She asked me if I was reporter and said she hoped I was because this school was awful! She told me she's called the Governor and the Senator and her representatives. I told her: good! You should! You need to be an advocate for what's wrong and make your voice heard.

She was enraged and on a roll. She suggested I go to the back of the school to see the graffiti by the gang Surenos 13. (!) Gang?! 

 I mean you walk up to the school, you see a contemporary structure, manicured grounds, new housing development and the state police headquarters up the street - gangs? Really?

MY Father is teaching at a school infested with gang members? Are you kidding me? WTF is going on here? I thought he was teaching Special Ed? Huh? 

I'm still in shock when I meet Margaret who was a former opera singer in Germany. She now teaches choir and piano. She has 32 students in piano class and 12 pianos. I suggested she tie the students up and have them pretend to be Siamese twins so that way they could at least learn half a song. She actually laughed. I'm picturing her trying to teach piano to gang bangers...I wonder if she yells at them in German and freaks them out. She should.

This is Mary and my Father in the hallway of the main school.

Here they are entering their portable classroom. Here's the MAJOR perk:
they're away from the main campus and gangs.

Here are their "restrooms"

The best part? Next door are more portable rooms. Those are being turned into baby day care for the Teen Mothers who are in school. Those portable day care facilities will have proper plumbing. 

Mary rocks. She's been teaching for 22 years, and knows how to make the  system work for her and the students. Unfortunately most new teachers walking into this kind of situation don't last very long.

I learned that the special ed classes are dumping grounds - not only do Mary and my Father have the autistic, and those afflicted with severe behaviorial and learning disabilities, but they also get the random delinquents - the students that no one else want to deal with.

Mary told me having Dad as her co-teacher is a great help with the male students - most of whom don't have a male role model, and if they do, well, they're not exactly supportive. Mary said Dad shows them that men can be kind, nice, and supportive. I thought that was pretty great. 

I learned that a Special Ed student can stay in High School until the age of 22. 

They told me stories about the parents - the parents who work 3 jobs to keep the family fed and sheltered, and can't exactly take a break from their jobs to come in to meet with the teachers, or the parents who don't speak a word of English.

Or the child with autism who who barely has a grasp of the English language - for that extra whammy.

All these kids falling through the cracks. This is the future?

Gangs, lockdowns, baby daycare at school for teen moms, High School students with a fifth grade speaking level knowledge of the language, I mean, the list goes on and on. 

Something drastic must be done to repair these dire circumstances in our educational system that exist all over this country - but what? WHAT is the solution? What is it? HOW do we get this generation and future generations properly educated? HOW? 

I admire Mary and Dad and all of the teachers who are trying even though their backs are against the wall and hands tied. Going in every day with a smile hoping that maybe, just maybe, they will change one life. 

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