She was a special education teacher, working primarily with autistic students. Thirteen were assigned to her. She diligently cared for all of them. Some of them were high-functioning individuals, verbal. One could read other languages. Very impressive. Other students were barely self-sufficient.
Then there were those students who needed a lot of extra assistance. One young man was severely autistic, unable to speak, engaging in repetitive behaviors, prone to taking off his shoes or flipping through a phone book during his free time. Most of the activities set aside for that student involved basic living activities.
On some occasions, though, that young man could prove to be very challenging. When he took his shoes and socks off, he could not go outside. He was not even permitted to go on the bus. This proved a very difficult issue for the class. His one-on-one assistant could barely handle the young man, especially when he would flip off his shoes as soon as someone had forced them on.
The teacher knew to handle this situation. She sat the young man down in the corner, dealing with him cautiously and carefully. She pleaded with the young man gently, assisting him little by little to put his feet in his socks, then work his way to putting his shoes on. It took a day or two to get the young student to put his shoes on and keep them on, but this teacher -- she helped him to do it.
She prepared reading lessons every day. She had a candy store, a rewards system that taught them how to use money, how to save what they earned so that they could get something better. This little trick taught them the importance of delayed gratification.
This woman directed a busy class, one that demanded a lot of attention to detail. She was working a very challenging population, one that deserves the best care possible. She had to supervise staff, who on any day could be very helpful or frustrating to her efforts with the students.
She connected with parents, she connected with staff, she connected with the best interests of others. She was a class act all the way -- calm, cool and collected. Organized, but with heart, she wanted the best for her students.
One summer, the host school district that rented out the classroom informed her that she would have to move to another classroom in another high school on the other side of the city. The room that she was staying in was large enough for the 13 students, but she initially had no idea what was in store for her, having to uproot her entire class and staff, then move to another site.
She rallied her staff as best as she could. She could not pay them, but she offered them something to eat if they would help her move out. The rest of the staff offered to pitch in and help.
A few years later, she ended up working in another program. Special ed youth who graduate from high school still need assistance to transition into adult living. These programs tend to be very laid back. Most of the time, staff members prepare little and do less with the students.
I am sure that wherever she is working, the lady who taught those 13 students is accomplishing great things with an older population.
Arthur Christopher Schaper is a substitute teacher and lifelong Torrance resident.
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