Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Those crazy coincidences

I had no intention of going to college. My dad had died when I was ten, my mother worked almost full-time and we were just barely getting by. Though college expenses were infinitely less back then in the 60's, we still had no money to send me - or my three younger siblings - to college. But the teachers in my high school were concerned. They kept telling me I was "smart" and had to do something with my life. One thought I should become a nuclear physicist, another suggested teaching gifted children. What they didn't know was that I was really good at memorizing facts and taking tests, but didn't really have any true understanding of the advanced math or science classes I was taking. And while I had played at being a teacher for as long as I could remember, "gifted" education had no real appeal at that time.

And then a very caring and wealthy relative stepped in and promised me a scholarship through the company he owned. Off I went - but very unsure at the time what it was I was studying to be. I took one education course, but found it extremely boring - and not at all challenging. The math and science courses I tried at the college level, on the other hand, were extremely challenging, but still of little interest or meaning to me.

I was sitting in a class called "Introduction to Mental Retardation" in my junior year, when the professor announced that a brand new program was starting up - to train teachers of the "mentally retarded." Funds were available immediately to anyone who was interested. In all honesty, it was the funds that interested me a whole lot more than the field, but I decided to give it a try - and the rest is history. I still disliked all the basic education courses, but found the field of disabilities totally fascinating. I earned my M.S. degree in what was called at the time "Behavioral Disabilities" and found myself one of only three fully certified special education teachers in the state.

Each of us could have our pick of where to teach, and at whatever level appealed to us. I had married and had a baby by that time, so I chose a school close to where we lived, and started at the elementary level, feeling most comfortable with young children.

That first class will always be very special to me. They taught me so much, ever so patiently, and I have been learning from my students ever since.

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