The Hardest Punch

The speech therapist and I were walking through the hallways of the middle school building. During the school year 2005/2006, modular classroom behind the main building, hosted the collaborative classroom Robert was attending.  The speech therapist and I were talking about Robert’s language. What  could be done to help him communicate his feelings.  That was not the first time we walked together from the classroom to the parking lot. I liked those short trips  because I learned more during those walks than I learned during many hours of workshops on autism I had attended in the past.  The speech therapist shared with me  ideas on word recall (a huge problem for Robert), on supportive role of signs in easing speech, on programing and using an assistive  technology device, Chat PC, and many other related topics – each of great importance to Robert. As we approach the glass door, the speech therapist stopped, looked at me in a sort of uneasy way and said,

“IT IS NOT FAIR TO A TEACHER TO HAVE TO WORK WITH SUCH A  STUDENT LIKE ROBERT.”

I don’t remember what I answered.  I know that I didn’t scream at her.  I know that my heart stopped in confusion, while my brain tried to reconcile this sentence with my prior experiences with the person who said that.  I waited a few seconds hoping that she would correct herself.
But she didn’t.  She meant what she said. I know that I answered something meekly and politely although I don’t know what it was. But I didn’t protest…

It was not an easy school year for Robert.  It was equally hard for me.  Robert joined this program in February of 2005 and seemed to do well.  He also did  well during the summer, although the program was led by another teacher.  But the school year 2005/2006 was a nightmare.

I was asked later by the former special education director why DID ROBERT CHANGE so much from one year to another.

I answered  that Robert didn’t change at all. But I didn’t elaborate.  I did not say that everything else changed around him.  In winter of 2005 Robert was welcomed to the program that only had two other full-time students and one part-time student.  One student was expected to leave by the end of the school year. The teacher leading this program was supported by two full-time, experienced aides and one aide who joined the class for a part of the week.  The speech therapist was joining the class, and she  often led the group.  In winter of 2005, the program was on a brink of collapsing.  The administration actively search for more students.  So Robert was more than welcome.

In 2005/2006 the class reached its capacity with seven students.  The experienced aides moved up to the more independent positions and new aides came in. The previous aides were actively helping the teacher, the new ones sat  next to the students looking more stiff than sculptures of Egyptian pharaohs.

While in the previous year, all aides seemed comfortable  walking with Robert to the classroom when I met with them in front of the school, in the following year,  each and every aide scurried away pretending not to see Robert walking next to me.  Not even once, they said “hi” to Robert and me, not to mention assisting  Robert on the way to the classroom.

The previous year the children sat next to each other around two connected tables. But that year, each student had his/her own desk for most of the school day.

The previous year the classroom was a part of the main building of the middle school, now it was placed behind the main building in rundown  mobile classroom.

Everything changed: classroom, school aides, students, mode of instruction.  In a  classroom with seven students, Robert presence was not as welcomed as it was previous year.

Everything changed.  Robert did not.

It was not fair to Robert to be subjected to all those changes he was not prepared for or taught to deal with.

It was not fair for Robert, to have a teacher who considered herself and/or  was considered by other to be a victim of such a student like Robert.

It was not fair for Robert to have a speech therapist who said, “It is not fair ….”

I

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