Special Ed

by

12/30/2002

W 118th St & Lenox Ave, New York, NY 10026

Neighborhood: East Harlem

Most parents have to be repeatedly prodded, coaxed and cajoled into attending any school meeting. Parents of Emotionally Disturbed Special Ed. students are required to attend annual meetings to evaluate their child’s individual program and progress, or lack thereof. It is therefore no surprise that voluntary meetings, such as Open School Night, can be notorious for lack of parental attendance. Why chance an additional encounter where either teacher or parent at wits end may end up sending signals, however direct or subliminal, that their child may fare better in yet another program or in another galaxy?

One particular parent of uncertain motivation, but undeniable inspiration, presented herself at my classroom door with the take no prisoners proclamation, “You think my son’s Special Ed.? I’m Special Ed!” That said, she proceeded to thrust herself into the confines of my face.

I greeted her with a calm voice and manner, attempting to demonstrate there was nothing in her immediate environment to cause her unheeded apprehension- and that nothing in her present demeanor was about to intimidate me. Usually, taking things down a notch and reassuring a parent that they have your respect and attention goes a long way.

She wasn’t having it. This would be a parent-teacher monologue, by the parent, for the parent, any attempt at meaningful dialogue be damned. With the full court press in motion, I took it up a notch myself, mindful that the occasional parent needs be reminded that to get respect, you must, in fact, give it. Unfortunately, neither of my demeanors had any effect on hers.

In a moment of clarity and revelation, it finally dawned on me, while looking her straight in her ever maddening eyes, that she had come for one reason, and one reason only- to set the record straight with this teacher whom she’d never met, and yet, had somehow, someway, intentionally disrespected and offended her, her son, and all things sacred. The woman had come to kick my ass!

I did not want to get into a catfight- not even half of one. I had seen my fair share in the school hallways, and I was in no mood to get scratched, gouged, kicked and bitten. I also wanted no part of her burly, female accomplice, who more than passingly resembled a tag team wrestler ready and anxious to enter the squared circle soon as the ref’s attention was averted.

Professional considerations aside, I proceeded to formulate my battle-plan in the few remaining seconds before her anticipated eruption. One quarter of an inch closer and I would push her straight into the blackboard hard as I could; pivoting, I would then procure the nearest chair and fling it at her advancing partner while proceeding to exit stage left, double-time. Determined it would behoove me to make the first move, all the time yearning to step back, laugh out loud and scream at the surreal absurdity of it all.

One nano-second from initiating said plan, my Vice Principal appeared on the scene suggesting I go downstairs and retrieve her son’s records, a suggestion I quickly obliged. Our voices had traversed the entire length of the corridor, thus alerting our female VP who fortunately had some small measure of acquaintance and rapport with said mom. Consequently, I was to learn that her son’s previous teacher was gay, or perceived as such, which did not sit well with mom. Seeing my skinny self triggered stereotype deja vu. Apparently, mom had been escorted out of her son’s previous school courtesy of their security personnel- after punching that teacher, and his principal.

The following day, I noticed her son unusually quiet, almost somber in class, as if embarrassed. God only knows what transpired at home after our meeting- or any other evening with mom for that matter. It continually amazes me just how sane some of these kids are despite their home lives, despite their environment, despite a school program that’s the quintessential band-aid on a gaping, mortal wound. These kids are troubled, make no doubt; capitalize the t and every letter that follows. But birth did not spell out their fate, a quick read of their records reveals an escalating series of vignettes each more horrific than the last. Drug abuse (pre, post and peri), one-parent families, jailed parent families, no parent families, group homes, foster homes, no homes. Choose your favorite stereotype for disaster, each does their job far better than I.

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