Welcome friends...thanks for coming by. We're seeking beauty in all of creation... in our faith and our families; our art and our music; our crafts and kitchens, and even in our own backyard. We'll share a poem or a recipe, a picture or a memory; maybe a dream of how we wish our life could be. And though we acknowledge that the world can be harsh, we're keeping it pleasant in our little corner; endeavoring to keep the words from the Book of all Books: ...Whatsoever things are lovely; think on these things.

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Photo: Bee and thistle: Taken high in the Cascade Mountains where there is a bee buzzing on every thistle. by Debora Rorvig

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Purple is My Faborite...From the Heart of a Para-Educator

     Note to the Reader...

People often ask me what I do as a para-educator. It's hard to explain. Para-education, for me, is loving children where they are. Then the teaching follows. This piece is entirely fictitious; there is no Pietra. And yet there are thousands of Pietras out there who would never make it in school without the love and care of a group of wonderful people called Para-educators.

Purple is My Faborite...From the Heart of a Para-Educator

     You're standing in the doorway to Mrs. Lincoln's second-grade classroom scanning the room for the new student, Pietra, a recent transfer from another state. Her transcripts say she's got behavior issues, and possible learning disabilities. It's the age old chicken-and-the-egg question...is she behind because she won't behave...or does she misbehave because she struggles to learn?  Mrs. Lincoln is busy helping children find their desk so you wander into the room and help incoming children hang their backpacks and coats.
     It is there, under the coat-rack,  that you first meet Pietra. She's a scrawny-looking little thing with tangled yellow hair and dull blue eyes. Her faded party dress of purple organza (which you will later learn is her favorite and that she will wear most every day this year) is two sizes too big and hangs on her tiny frame like a potato sack. Yellow galoshes. You wonder whether she or her mother decided that yellow galoshes go with purple organza. Or does she even have a mother? Her wonky glasses are perched precariously atop a button nose; they make her eyes appear twice as large as they really are. Her lips are pursed in a defiant pout and she is holding onto her backpack for dear life. She eyes you suspiciously.
     "I see you've met Pietra," says Mrs. Lincoln with thin smile, "she's not making good choices today. Her directions were to hang up her backpack and to take a seat at her desk, but as you can see, she's not following directions."
     Mrs. Lincoln looks exhausted. Of the twenty-eight children in her classroom; five have special needs. One barely speaks English. Last week, after seeing black and blue bruises on the arms and legs of one of her students, she called CPS. The parents, livid with her; threatened to file discrimination charges to retaliate. And today her classroom has a foul fecal stench; one of her students has encopresis and has inadvertently pooped his pants. Despite the freezing weather, she's opened all the windows...trying to air the room out. It's chilly in here. You try not to breath too deeply and button up your cardigan.
     "Hi Pietra, I'm Mrs. Smith." you say quietly.
      No response.
     "I love your purple dress!"
     She eases up a bit, but still clutches the backpack. "Purple's my faborite."
     "Mine too!" you lie.
     A para-ed's favorite color is purple, red, black, brown, blue, green...any color; as long as it build rapport with a wary child.
     "So whatcha-got in your backpack?"
     You're too smart to try to take the backpack. Tried it before with other kids. It's a Bad scene.
     "My Princess Barbie."
     "Can I see her?"
     "My Daddy bought it for me."
     Her voice is filled with Pride. Awe. Affection. Grief.
     "Wow, that's so special! Did Daddy bring you to school today?"
     "He's in jail. But he's comin' home in Nobember," she brightens, "and when he does, he's gonna get me a castle for my Barbie!"
     A broad smile spreads across her tiny face. She's actually kind of cute when she smiles.
     "It's the doll..." you explain to Mrs. Lincoln, "it's her connection to her father." 
     For that week, Pietra is allowed to keep her backpack safely beneath her chair. Often she pulls the Barbie out, just to make sure it's still there; and to tell her classmates about her Daddy and the castle and that he's coming home in Nobember. It's a huge distraction to her and to the other students; but necessary to keep her on an even emotional keel.
     Over the next several months and years Pietra's struggles become your very own. You try to become the One.Constant.Thing in her life. When dad gets out of jail and he keeps her home for a week to celebrate; you tell her you miss her and encourage her to come to school every day. When you read in the papers that he's been picked up again on drug charges; you meet her at the door with a special hug. You make up silly alphabet games to teach her letters; and when she finally learns to read; you have a BIG celebration and boast about her to anyone who will listen. No matter that she's two years behind. The main thing is...she's learning. Slowly, sometimes painstakingly,  but she's learning. Two steps forward, one step back.
     You know, and you dread the day that is coming; when she will become REALLY angry. At her father. At life. At her disabilities. At the system. Why does her father act this way? Why was she born into this family and not that one? Why is she reading first grade books in sixth grade?
     "Did you know," she asks as she sits quietly coloring her map of the United States, "that he never bought me that stupid castle for my Barbie doll? He promised!"
     Then she adds..."But he always found money for drugs."
     "I know, honey," you say softly.
     She's in sixth grade now. There's no way to sugar-coat the facts. So you tell her the truth.
     "You've had a hard time of it and people that you should be able to count on have let you down. But look who you've become in spite of it all! Remember when we met that day...under the coat rack? Back then you couldn't read. Couldn't do math. But you worked hard, and you learned. And if you keep working hard, you will learn more... I promise. You will become more than you ever could imagine if you don't give up. Please, Pietra, don't let yourself down!"
     She looks dubious. Though you've always tried to keep your word to her, you know it might not be enough. How many broken promises...broken dreams can one child endure? How many times can a broken heart heal?
     It's sixth grade graduation day and she gives you a wallet-size school photo. (You anonymously paid for her pictures this year, selfishly hoping she'd give you one, and you're thrilled when she does.) You take the picture home and proudly position it on the fridge, right next to your children's photos. She's grown so pretty. Her long blond hair is pulled into a pretty French-braid. Her wonky old glasses replaced with flattering ones that accentuate her lovely blue eyes. She's filling out; becoming a young lady. The form-fitting purple shirt she is wearing in the photograph attests to that. You look at it and smile. Purple. It's still her faborite color!
     Purple has become your faborite color too.
     Next fall there will be another child. He will be hiding under a coat-rack. Or she will be sitting in the hall outside her classroom, sulking. You will say "Hi, I'm Mrs. Smith. I love your green tennis-shoes. Green is my favorite color you know. Really... is it your's too?!"




Elephant's Child said...

Tears. And gratitude. Thank you.

joanne said...

beautiful post D, we need more angels like you.


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