Professor Talk is a special set of posts from my blog dedicated to true stories about teaching college. Professor Talk focuses on the stories from my seasoned father-in-law, Bob, who taught at a state university in Pennsylvania for decades in the field of Special Education. Bob is a heck of a story teller.
The story below, based on my interview with Bob, is true. Importantly, we do not recommend that you try any of the things from Bob's stories at home ...
Bob: So after four years of college education—before I went onto a doctoral program in special education, I took a one-year job teaching in a special education classroom in upstate New York. The class was in junior high school—and all of the students were designated as intellectually impaired. This was the only special education room in the building. And I had no aide. The class did not get out until 3:30—I had a half hour for lunch. It was a long day.
On Day One, I tell a kid, Mike, who has a hearing disability, to sit down. He tells me that he doesn't want to listen to me and he turns off his hearing aid. He refuses to sit down—then gets right in my face - and then pushes me into the blackboard. I suddenly find my right hand making it right onto his face—leading to a bloody lip. Well, at least then he sat down.
So I went home and cried. I concluded that my career was over in a single day.
The next day at school, Mike's father came into the classroom. He was a big man. He asked me what happened. I explained everything. The dad then says to his son, in front of the whole class, "I'm going to kill you when we get home!"
I then defended the boy, quickly saying that he wasn't that bad and that it was all a misunderstanding...
As the year progressed, Mike became my favorite student. In fact, he once saved me from getting stabbed with scissors by one of the more severely impaired students in the class. Mike warned me, when my back was turned, that this other kid was coming at me full-guns with some scissors...
Mike's intellectual capacity, I would come to find out, was much higher than the capacity for most of the other kids. It was his hearing that really made learning difficult for him. He had a great sense of humor—and seemed very interested in my girlfriend (now my wife of more than 50 years!).
At the end of the day, Mike taught me the following life lessons:
* First impressions in the classroom are not always valid
* Intellectual abilities are often poorly measured when it comes to kids with sensory issues (such as poor hearing)
* Special education teachers earn their pay!
* It occurred to me that teaching young people how to teach in special education classrooms, as opposed to teaching in the front lines, might be for me!
At the end of the school year, I came to find out that the other teachers in the building had a pool going to see when I would quit. I didn't quit. No one won the pool as far as I know. I was, at that time, in fact, the only one who lasted a full year in that classroom. The next year, I started a doctoral program in Special Education in the midwest—and, years later, I went onto a career teaching special education at a state university in Pennsylvania. This all said, that year teaching on the front lines was, without question, an essential part of my own education in the field. If you want to go into the teaching of some subject, you better get yourself some real-world experience.