Monday, September 20, 2010

The One Penny Opera

The One Penny Opera 

I've been working in special education since 1972.  I started as a learning disabilities tutor in Brattleboro, Vermont, when the field was very new and I was supervised by dynamic women professors who would later become important researchers and authorities in Learning Disabilities.

From the Brattleboro public schools, I moved to Greenfield, New Hampshire and was part of a new movement in residential treatment at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center.  We designed after-school activities for 200+ deaf, multiple-handicapped and LD students ages 5 to 18 years old.  With a team of recreational specialists and dorm counselors, we carried out a rich menu of activities to complement the academics.  

Later, Public Law 94-142 was passed and all students were guaranteed the right to a "free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment".  The LD kids left outside placements and went home to neighborhood schools and I went with them.

I learned the testing and diagnostic side of learning, and that's what I've been doing for the past 35 years.  I do individualized evaluations and observations to find what students are good at -- where are their strengths -- and how to design school/classroom programs that build on these strengths and minimize the weaknesses.  The work almost sounds simple when I write this, the bare bones of the job.  But simple, it's not.

Now I've decided this is my last year of testing and special education consulting.  I have so many other things I want to do -- like rabble rouse for better practices in education and travel and write and teach in the National Writing Project New Hampshire and read and drink coffee on the deck at 10 a.m.

As soon as I said, "Yes, this is the year", the inner drama began.  Reasons to stay, reasons to go.  Evidence of bureaucracy and stupid decisions.  The joy of kids and learning.  The years and years of my life I have given to this work.  Some days, it's very easy to leave, while other days make me wonder...

So, I'm creating my own plan for maximizing strengths and coping skills.  I'm honoring the past and remembering the anecdotes of different schools and students, the small joys and sorrows.  I'm writing -- my way of thinking.

Best of all, I'm marking the big transition in a hands-on way.  My good friend, also a master teacher still in the trenches, gave me these two little pots this September with 180 pennies, one for each working day in the school year.

Each day, I move another penny and the little pile grows.  
Day by day.  Monday through Friday.
One penny at a time.


gretchen said...

Hi! There will be lots of musings and memories, here. I feel as if I've found the way to walk this retirement path and give my school life its due. So, yes to naked fairies (maybe we could find an example) and offices in closets (or worse)... The pennies are a brilliant way of making this real and fun.


gretchen said...

Ah, Blogger, we lost Chris' comment from yesterday. So, here it is a la cut + paste.

Chris said:
"i hope you might share pieces of your memoirs, and i hope naked fairies are mentioned, at least in passing. what will we in the trenches do without the likes of you.... good luck with your big transition. maybe i can learn from you.

clink...clink...clink... "