Not for the first time, the shrieks from my soul escape, and I sob
I feel the blow, but I don’t react. It’s not the first time a student has physically attacked me. I’ve been working with autistic preschoolers for a while now.
But I’ve been trained to handle behaviorally difficult children, and observing my teachers and coworkers at work has given me the knowledge, courage, and confidence to deal with anything these kids throw at me.
I look at the child who has just hit me. He’s sitting across from me in his cube chair. He’s frustrated. I take a deep breath and say, “Nice hand, hands aren’t for hitting.” Then I move myself a safe distance away, but still within reach. I wait until he calms down.
It’s snack time. My coworker Nadine approaches me and smiles. I smile back, relieved that she’ll be taking over. I update her on how the morning has been. Nadine’s distributing Oreos for snack time, and I wistfully say, “I’d really love a cookie.”
“Girl, after that session, I think you deserve one,” Nadine says, and hands me one. I grin. It’s so nice to be appreciated.
I feel the blows land, and something inside me dies. My nonverbal five-year-old Gigi has just hit me. I didn’t allow her to have an extra snack, and she’s frustrated.
Ahuvah, my eight-year-old, begs for a snack that we don’t have in the house. I should have gone to the grocery store, but I was too tired after work, and anyway, I had to rush home to meet the school bus.
My husband leaves for Maariv with my son, and I’m stuck doing bedtime, again. Gigi babbles and screams, Ahuvah whines for my attention. I want to hug them both, but I’m too tired. I growl at them to go to bed. It takes more than an hour until they’re finally asleep.
As quietly as I can, I take out a container of ice cream from the freezer and eat in my bedroom, hoping to dull the pain in my back and the ache in my heart. Not for the first time, the shrieks from my soul escape, and I sob.
It’s parent-teacher conferences tonight. The parents across the desk listen to my report. I show them their son’s portfolio and report cards. We look at them together and marvel at their child’s progress.
The next set of parents approaches hesitantly. Their child has given me a hard time with his behavior. I smile and let them know that we won’t stop trying to find the best ways to support their daughter.
I’m exhausted and battling a sinus infection. I’m waiting on line for a parent-teacher conference. In my hand is a report card of the likes I’d never have sent without a phone conference first. How have I been ignorant of the fact that my son has done so poorly? Why didn’t the teacher let me know?
It’s finally my turn. I ask for specifics, and the teacher gives me vague anecdotes. I ask for work samples, and she shrugs. I ask that any work that he struggles to complete be sent home so my husband and I, both educators, can work with him. She says something about the project being an in-class only activity, that it can’t be sent back and forth.
She glances at the clock, and I know my time is up. I don’t even bother to ask if I can have a copy of some schoolwork so I can see what my child needs.
My body aches. The Advil I took hours ago is out of my system. By the time I get home, my fever is back, and I have to take another day off from work.
My smile to the parents in front of me is warm, and I make sure to radiate confidence and caring. We’re at an IEP meeting, and as the provider, I’m required to give an update on how Joey has progressed.
He’s gone from barely attending class to needing only occasional reminders to keep on track. The parents look scared. I comfort them and explain how well their son has done. I acknowledge how much they’ve helped their child grow and give further recommendations. Joey’s parents are so grateful.
I’m alone at the IEP meeting, and I feel on guard. I’m a special education teacher, but here that means nothing, only that I must accept the “truth” about my child.
Early on in the meeting, I casually mention my credentials. I see a shift in the professionals behind the desk, as they realize they’re speaking to a colleague who can understand the jargon.
I try to look at the IEP with a mask of indifference and professional calm. I fail. I want to yell, “This isn’t my child,” but I don’t.
Teacher and Parent, 2021
I awake to darkness, an elbow in my ribs informing me that Gigi has invaded my bed. I’ve been avoiding doing what I promised the school I would do: take her to a neurologist.
I’m so tired. She has special ed services and an IEP. Why do I have to put a label on her?
I come home each day almost in tears over the fact that I converse more with my three-year-old students than I do with my five-year-old daughter. I hug Gigi and whisper, “I love you.” She still can’t say those words. The labels, the names of the interventions and tests she’s been given, swirl through my mind in black-and-white lettering.
I cling to my child, and the tears come. Why can’t my child talk? What will her future be? At this hour, there’s no vestige of my teacher self. I have no words of comfort, no encouraging thoughts, no way to assuage the relentless fears.
I look up. “She’s Your child too,” I whisper into the darkness. “I need Your help.” I inhale, allow the belief that my salvation may be just inches away to fill me.
Then I cling to my child and kiss her. She hugs me back, and I fall asleep.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 757)
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