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It was the class that created itself.
There is some old law of physics that speaks of Nature abhorring a vacuum. Nature must have been at work that fall. There must have been a vacuum we had not noticed because all at once there was a class where no class was ever planned. It did not happen suddenly, as the filling of some vacuums does, but rather slowly, as Nature does all her greatest things.
When the school year began in August I was working as a resource teacher. The slowest children from each of the elementary classes in the school would come to me in ones and twos and threes for half an hour or so a day. My job was to do the best I could to keep them up with the rest of their classes, primarily in reading or math, but sometimes in other areas as well. However, I was without a class of my own.
I had been with the school district for six years. Four of those years had been spent teaching in what educators termed a "self-contained classroom," a class which took place entirely within one room; the children did not interact with other children in the school. I had taught severely emotionally disturbed children during this time. Then had come Public Law 94-142, known as the mainstreaming act. It was designed to normalize special education students by placing them in the least restrictive environment possible and minimizeing itheir deficits with additional instruction, called resource help. There were to be no more closeted classrooms where the exceptional children would be left to sink or swim a safe distance from normal people. No more pigeonholes. No more garbage dumps. That beautiful, idealistic law. And my kids and me, caught inreality.
When the law passed, my self-contained room was closed. My eleven children were absorbed into the mainstream of education, as were forty other severely handicapped children in the district. Only one full-time special education class remained open, the program for the profoundly retarded, children who did not walk or talk or use the toilet. I was sent to work as a resource teacher-in a school across town from where my special education classroom had been. That had been two years before. I suppose I should have seen the vacuum forming. I suppose it should have been no surprise to see it fill.
I was unwrapping my lunch, a Big Mac from McDonald's -- a real treat for me because on my half-hour lunch break I could not get into my car and speed across town in time to get one as I had been able to do at the old school. Bethany, one of the school psychologists, had brought me this one. She understood my Big Mac addiction.
I was just easing the hamburger out of the Styrofoam container, mindful not to let the lettuce avalanche off, which it always did for me, trying for the millionth time to remember that idiotic jingle: Two-all-beef-patties-blah, blah, blah. My mind was not on teaching.
I looked up. Birk Jones, the director of special education in the district, towered over me, an unlit pipe dangling from his lips. I had been so absorbed in the hamburger that I had not even heard him come into the lounge. "Oh, hi, Birk."
"Do you have a moment?"
"Yeah, sure," I said, although in truth I didn't. There were only fifteen minutes left to gobble down the hamburger and french fries, drink the Dr Pepper and still get back to a whole stack of uncorrected work I had left in the classroom. The lettuce slipped off the Big Mac onto my fingers.
Bethany moved her chair over and Birk sat down between us. "I have a little problem I was hoping you might help me out with," he said to me.
"Oh? What kind of problem?"
Birk took the pipe out of his mouth and peered into the bowl of it. "About seven years old." He grinned at me. "Over in Marcy Cowen's kindergarten. A little boy; I think he's autistic, myself. You know. Does all sorts of spinningand twirling. Talks to himself. Stuff like your kids used to do. Marcy's at the end of her rope with him. She had him part of last year too and even with a management aide in the room, he hasn't changed a bit. We have to do something different with him."
I chewed thoughtfully on my hamburger. "And what can I do to help you? 'I
"Well..." A long pause. Birk watched me eat with such intensity that I thought perhaps I ought to offer him some. "Well, I was thinking, Tor...well, perhaps we could bus him over here."
"'What do you mean?"
"And you could have him."
"I could have him?" A french fry caught halfway down my throat. "I'm not equipped in my present situation to handle any autistic kids, Birk."
He wrinkled his nose and leaned close in a confidential manner. "You could do it. Don't you think?" A pause while he waited to see if I would reply or simply choke to death quietly on my french fry. "He only comes half days. Regular kindergarten schedule. And he's rotting in Marcy's class. I was thinking maybe you could work with him special. Like you did with those other kids you used to have."
"But Birk?...I don't have that kind of room anymore. I'm set up to teach academics. What about my resource children?"
Birk shrugged affably. "We'll arrange something."Somebody Else's Kids. Copyright © by Torey Hayden. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.