Recently by Linda Schrock Taylor: Literacy’s Last Hurrah
My mother has long been of the opinion that occupations like that of teaching can be the least rewarding because of the lack of closure; because "never knowing how it ends" is too often part and parcel of such professions. I completely agree with her because we rarely, basically never, see the outcome of our input.
A real estate agent sells a house and closes the deal. A bookkeeper can find peace when the books balance. A mechanic can pat himself on the back when a formerly useless piece of machinery is brought back from the dead and made useful again. A book writer can check on the number of copies sold. A barber or beautician can see results, and get instant feedback. But many of us just have to wonder and worry if we really did enough; if we accomplished all that could have been accomplished.
I have taught for more than 40 years but still could not explain what more than a handful of my special education students actually learned from me and/or have ended up doing with their lives. I wonder — and I would love to know — but opportunities to discover such information only rarely appear. I therefore was surprised last summer when a very welcome note appeared on my Facebook page asking, “Are you the Linda Schrock who was my teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf back in the early-mid Seventies?” YES I AM! I had not heard from this student since 1977 and he was one about whom I especially wondered and worried. What a relief. It was like Santa had arrived early.
But then December arrived and I happened to be in a discount store when someone called out, "Mrs. Taylor!" I turned to see one of my former students walking towards me. We hugged then I stood back to really look at him. School had never been easy for this student and I suspected that his home was not, either. I had taught him in the days before I learned to use the life-saving Spalding Reading Method but even without it I tried my very best. I also had set myself a very firm goal: that even if I could not get all academics taught, I would at least try to teach personal pride, self confidence, self control, and hopefully instill a good work ethic.
There stood my once-troubled student wearing a sparkling white dress shirt under a spotless near-new workman's jacket. He wore clean new jeans and his body language was one of confidence and …self control. His stance was relaxed. I asked what he was doing these days and he answered, "I'm still wrenching; working as a mechanic." I automatically glanced at his hands as I had so often done in school and blurted out, "Oh! Your hands are beautiful. Your nails are so clean!" He gave me a bit of a smile as he explained, "Mrs. Taylor, I now wear gloves when I work." I almost began to cry but…
There was no time because, as unbelievable as it seems, another former student walked up and joined us! What are the odds? Chucky Fuller (the name has been changed to protect everyone) gave me a huge warm hug. He was wearing a clean shirt and slacks plus a beautiful blue employee's jacket from the local cable company. He wore glasses and was the picture of a confident working man.
**Now, before I continue, I need to give you a bit of background on Chucky Fuller. Even the mention of his name has caused strong, skilled teachers to shudder. To actually shudder! I feel sure that this boy created thousands of pure white strands for my motheru2018s hair. That was before he began re-coloring mine when I was hired to replace Mother after she retired in relief.
"Chucky" was almost impossible to keep in a classroom because of his hyperactivity and his lack of concern for rules and for those who make rules. He always "forgot" his glasses in his locker so that he would have a sure reason to later get out of class. If a teacher foolishly denied him permission to go get his glasses, there was hell to pay. Few challenged his request a second time. His demands were relentless. I suspect that the teachers, as they handed him the hall pass, were thinking, "Go get the damn glasses! Next time, maybe you could be so good as to forget them at home."
When one humorless, rigid, and empty-of-insight teacher tried to win a battle over Chucky leaving the room so often to go to the bathroom, Chucky simply walked to the waste basket and relieved himself right in the classroom; right in front of the teacher. Still the woman did not learn and next she tried to discipline him by writing on the blackboard, "Must have lunch 1 day in the classroom". Of course the boy never showed up so she upped it to 2 days. 5. 20. 30….She continued this totally ineffective punishment until she had staked a claim on all of his lunch periods until near the End of Time. Chucky had lunch as always, right in the cafeteria with his buddies.
"Will Chucky ever really graduate?" was the question on almost everyone's lips. Things became so bad, and Chucky was kicked out so often, that our wise and insightful principal finally decided to only require (allow?) the boy to be in the building for about 6/7 of each school day. Oops! Change that to 3/4. Oh, shucks, that didn't work. Let's try 5/8. One-half day ended up being the boy's basic schedule….with assignments sent with him so that he could "study" at home. For the time that he was in the building, Chucky was assigned mostly to…you guessed it…"Mrs. Taylor's room." How lucky could I get?
In truth, however, I liked the boy and he liked me. His antics made me laugh behind my hand. I could see that he was quite intelligent and that he understood the System better than 95% of the adults working in it. He had their number, but good. I enjoyed watching him as he went about undermining one silly schooling theory after another. I, at least, could keep him in the classroom for most of the time and I did lay down the law that he must NEVER leave without permission. He respected that. He was not mean; not sullen; not vengeful. Not angry. Not fight-prone. He was….well, he was just a unique person with unique needs and Tenacity was his power tool.
He and I kept two options ready for those times when he could no longer tolerate the four walls: 1) get the glasses from the locker (He would even "forget" them in the locker again while he was out on a bathroom break. Hide my smirk.), and 2) frequent bathroom trips, both necessary and unnecessary. At least I could count on him to always be where he said he would be…strolling slowly to and from his locker, or to and from the bathroom. Not only did we understand each other when it came to room-leaving, I let him to set up a repair corner in my classroom. The deal was…while he tinkered, he had to keep his mouth shut and he had to carefully listen to what I was teaching. I gladly tolerated the ugly smells and the awful mess of old, oily motorcycle parts as I hoped that he would at least learn with his ears.
By the way, Chucky was only one of two students who ever put their hands on me during my four decades of teaching. However, he instantly realized his error when he noticed my fierce eyes and clenched teeth. He quickly removed his hands. The incident dissolved and we remained friends because I felt no need to inform the office, and he realized that I had no-holds-barred self defense on my mind. I was capable of handling the situation. No harm had been done and much respect had been solidified.
Yes, there in front of me stood this infamous Chucky Fuller, looking spiffy and actually wearing his glasses! I laughed and teased him about having the glasses on without a reminder from me. I'm sure that we were both picturing the same old routine as he grinned, saying "Aw, Mrs. Taylor, I HAVE to wear them. I really can't see anything without them." (No surprise to me!)
I quizzed him:
Job? Cable installer and repair man
How long? For over a decade.
Family? Wife and two children. Oldest child is 14. He explained…coolly and calmly…that he is not very happy with the school district (his alma mater…hide my smile) and has requested a meeting with his child's teacher and the principal. He expected that the meeting would go fine. (Wouldn't I like to be a mouse?)
When I walked away from those two clean, confident, thriving young fellows, I went where I could cry unseen. Maybe I really had helped those students. Maybe what I was finally witnessing was…closure!
I just may have received the two best…and rarest…Christmas gifts that any teacher can receive.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a retired special education teacher; a reading specialist; former homeschooling parent; and outspoken constitutionalist. She is slowly writing her first book on remediating reading skills.