A Very Special Education

Being a para-substitute teacher is a strange, awkward, interesting form of employment. Perhaps it is only in my ignorance, having never really been “in” the work force, but tell me some one please, is it de rigueur for a job to come so completely without instructions? Sometimes I wonder why I am even being paid. There is often very little to do. If only I could only deal with the kids. They are, most of them, all right.

A few weeks ago I was working in the high school. This day I went from room to room following different students that needed extra help, although I will admit they mostly help me: telling me where to go, how to get there, what to do once I’m there. The schedule I’m handed in the morning usually has only the classroom and the name of the student that I am attending to.

The high school jobs are always my first choice, they start really early, but are done just after 2:00; it’s quite nice to get out of work around two. I also like the older students. Most of the teachers dress up for the occasion; I realize that most people do not wear jeans and tee shirts all the time, but I was surprised by the level of attire. I try to keep up. This day I wore a snappy ensemble of flare jeans, (but we’ll call them slacks as jeans are really only allowed on Fridays, and these particular pants are rather slack-ish) a fitted button down top, and heels. Naturally the class I had to go to was gym. Only sneakers are allowed on the gym floor. Posted on every wall are dire warnings of immediate…reprimand, expulsion, hanging? I don’t know what. The floor’s sheen is raised to a ridiculous level. I walked on my tiptoes and simply pretended I could not read. When in doubt, ignore.

I was accompanying a very sweet boy, we’ll call him Jensen, I think he has Down’s Syndrome, he doesn’t talk very much, which suits me well, and occasionally reverts to sign language, but I happen to know a little bit so he took a liking to me. When we got to the gym the entire class, along with the instructors, were already on their way outside, but Jensen assured me that he spent the period in the back auxiliary gym. Okay. When we entered the large room, I looked around and noticed all at once that there was absolutely nothing in the room save a strange mobile staircase. He demonstrated its usefulness by climbing up and down it a few times while I worried about his possible physical limitations. After a few minutes of that he suggested we show each other dance moves. He takes hip-hop and was eager to teach me. Ever the acquiescent student I mimicked his movements. Then he insisted that I teach him my moves. Oh dear. My daughter had tried to teach me belly dancing recently but that hardly seemed appropriate. I thought about the Salsa, did a quick demo, but decided better of it when he winked at me. “How about the Fox Trot?” I suggested. We went around the gym a few times dancing the Fox Trot in silence. With both of us at the limit of our dancing repertoire, he made another suggestion, how about hide and seek. “Really? Is this really your gym class Jensen?” “Yes,” he insisted, this was what he did. Okay. There were not very many places to hide. One round I hide between the wall and the water fountain, when he stuck his head around the corner I couldn’t suppress a strangled cry: he was a little scary looking with his dark glasses and crooked teeth. Eventually he began to venture farther and farther; first out of the auxiliary gym, then down the stairwell, until on the last round I simply could not find him. I looked everywhere, even outside, while cursing my stupidity. “Oh my God, I have lost my ward. I’ll be fired. Why am I such an idiot?” Making matters worse, the class and teachers were visible through the doors, coming up the incline to re-enter the gym. Oh super. “Jensen! I give up!” I called out hurriedly, “I give up! Come out!” mercifully, in a trice he appeared, sauntering with his chest puffed up in pride out of the boy’s locker room. “Jensen, you little cheat, I can’t go in the boy’s locker room,” He giggled the entire way back to the special-ed room. Oh, the hilarity.

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