Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where You Least Expect to Find Sweetness

Even though I have 18 years experience working with adolescents with emotional and behavioral disabilities, only the last 10 have been in the classroom. In 1999, I had been home with my own kids for six or seven years, but I was thinking I should start getting my teaching feet wet so that by the time Kendall started kindergarten, I'd have my foot in the door at the local school district.

The trouble was, I only had a Kindergarten/Pre-K teaching license, so I figured I wouldn't be able to teach in high school. Still, I knew I had skills that would be of use, so one day, resume in hand, I walked into the office of the spec ed director and boldly said, "My name is Mrs4444, and I'd like to give you this opportunity to convince me to sub in your high school program."

Silly me, I thought it would be difficult to get a full-time teaching job teaching EBD kids! Boy, was I wrong! Before I knew any better, that spec ed director had me by the lapels, begging me not to leave and offering me any job that I wanted! It was almost really that easy; he looked over my resume and said, "Never mind subbing; would you like to teach full time?" I was taken aback; I had no idea I could get an emergency license and actually work full-time, and I wasn't sure that was what I wanted. I told him I had to go home and talk to my husband. Mr.4444 and I talked it over and decided to give it a go; I should get while the getting was good, right?! (I had no idea EBD jobs were so plentiful at the time!) The director mentioned openings at five different schools, and I asked if I could go observe at each before making a decision . He consented, and I set out to see what EBD-land had to offer. The first four schools were typical (though one used the Debuque Method of discipline, which I did not think was a good fit for me; too prescribed). Still not sure, I visited the last site and fell in love...with the jail school.

At the jail school, students who were habitually truant or drop-outs found themselves in jail for relatively short periods of time (3-5 days, usually), but they had to be afforded an education. It was a very interesting job, though I was terrified at first to even enter the classroom. However, like my first visit to the group home, I soon learned that these students, though dressed in blue jumpsuits, with all of their tattoos and haunted eyes, were like most kids in a lot of ways; they wanted people to know they were worth something; that they were smart, and that they deserved a chance. I found that my students in the jail school, for the most part (being a captive audience) wanted to prove that they were not just "punks."

While teaching part-time at the jail school that year, I had some very positive experiences, as well as a few negative ones (mostly positive). For example, I will never forget the 12 year old boy who cried himself to sleep at night and was read to through the cell walls by a caring older peer no doubt missing his own little brother. I will also never forget the infamous Ricky Crapeau, who was responsible for the death of a little Asian boy who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I remember the lights that lit up in the eyes of students discovering things for the first time that they should have learned in grade school but were too troubled to care about at the time.

And finally, the reason I was inspired to write this post tonight; a young, female inmate named Amanda, who sadly reminisced about the holiday baking her mom was likely doing at home; making Norwegian rosettes, fatigman, and krumkake, and how she wished she could be there to help. If not for Amanda, my own family might not be smelling the delicious aroma of krumkake in our home tonight. Visit Mrs.4444 Cooks to learn the rest of the story....

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