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  • For several years I worked in Special Education in rural Maine schools. My first school was a low red building set among the fields and the first day I set out to find it I drove right past thinking it was a Feed n’ Seed. The District sent me out to serve the 20-30 kids with learning disabilities and other assorted labels in a small grade 4 to 6 school. These are the stories from that time and dear god they are harsh.

    If god set out to design a kid with a kick me sign on his back he did pretty good with Billy H. Billy’s ears stuck out like wing flaps on a plane approaching the runway. He picked his scabs and picked his nose and ate his boogers. His daddy must have administered his buzz cut with a dull set of shears and as he shambled down the hall he squeaked his feet. He laughed too loud at exactly the wrong time, missing the joke entirely. When he got called on in class he had a perpetually amazed and surprised look. He drove his teacher, the gracious Ms Fox crazy. On the playground he joined the ongoing football game. When the play moved right Billy was usually heading left but he cried bitterly as he realized that the older boys would never pass the ball to him. Billy came to the resource room to work with me for reading and math and I spent the first few months that first year trying to find out what made the boy tick.

    A feature of Special education in the US is the annual meeting to develop an individual education plan for identified students. I know the case law now and the history and it is all fine and true, a real testament to an enlightened society. Reality is, however, usually a bit grittier. Billy’s daddy came to the meeting. A big man who sat sprawled out in the small plastic chairs around one of the scarred tables in my room. It was my first official meeting. The principal was there, reps from the District office, all the specialists. I wore my one tie.

    Billy’s daddy fidgeted while each of them reported and their comments were duly recorded in the minutes. Finally it was his turn. He looked at me and said no disrespect but I was not Mrs. D. (Billy’s teacher from the year before). My hands were under the table so no one could see them dig into one another. He said Mrs D. had known how to handle Billy. He said Billy needed a strong approach. He said when Billy had trouble with toilet training he had dealt with Billy himself. When Billy shit his pants he took the boy's underwear and put it over his head. Never happened again, he said and slapped his hand down on the table.

    Under the glare of the bare fluorescent bulbs in that room, so empty without the kids, we all froze. After the meeting the special education director and the principal held me for a moment, like I was a hypothermia victim and needed thawing out.

    A while later Billy showed the gracious Ms Fox what his daddy’s belt had done. Ms Fox got the nurse who happened to be there that day and they took pictures and called the State Troopers. I never saw Billy again.

    About 5 years later, Kathy in the office called down the hall that I had a phone call. The school was empty in the early dark of a northern winter. It was Billy, calling to see how I was. He was in high school. We talked about his French class and how things were going and had I written any more books. He had made the football team and was taller than me now.

    I didn't realize at the time how rare this was to hear back from a student and know the rest of the story. Now I do and am amazed at where seeds travel and how they grow.
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