Quotes from the first ten chapters
Raising a child is, perhaps, the greatest challenge of a person's life, especially if that child is a little bit different from so-called “normal” children. Being that child is even a much greater challenge. In that regard, I speak from personal experience.
Maintaining discipline in the classroom has always been a teacher's top priority, and there are many different ways of going about it. My father told me that there was never any standard procedure; discipline was at the teacher’s discretion. Some teachers were loving and nurturing. Others were quite stern, even sadistic.
Perhaps the most influential educational philosopher of the twentieth century was the pragmatist, John Dewey. He was quite prolific and wrote over forty books and 700 articles. He was largely responsible for changing the way teaching was done after World War II. When my father was in grade school, 1913-1925, the classroom was teacher-centered. Dewey's philosophy made it student-centered.
Kids used to joke about Mr. Loveall because he sometimes walked around the classroom with an erection. I never thought much about it until I was in 7th grade. He was transferred to the junior high school I went to on the south end of the district where he taught p.e. and wood shop. I was unfortunate enough to have Loveall for both classes. About once a month, he would have all the boys strip down for weighing. We'd stand in a long line, completely naked, most of us shivering, until we reached his office. The dank coldness of the gym only enhanced the embarrassment that most of us felt.
Lugo got swatted every single day, and sometimes as many as five times in a single class period. We all thought it was sort of a joke because Lugo never winced while being swatted. While Lugo was taking a shower in the gym with all the other boys, one of the kids pointed to his butt. It had been beaten black and blue. Brockhaus never seemed all that amusing to me anymore, but in those days there wasn't anything you could do about it. So much for John Dewey.
A fellow colleague and good friend of mine, Jack Johnson, who taught 5th grade at a school on the far south end of the district, got arrested when the gym he was running–it was a partnership–was raided by the local police. They found steroids and cocaine in Jack's gym bag. Jack told me that somebody must have stashed the drugs in his gym bag when they saw the police coming. I've known him a long time and knew that he never smoked pot or used cocaine, but did I think he was guilty? Yes.
I had finally managed to get the kids to sit down and listen while I told them stories from their textbooks. About fifteen minutes into the lesson, just when everything started to go well, my peaceful classroom was suddenly invaded by members of a rival street gang. Three teenage thugs barged into my classroom, grabbed a student, and dragged him outside, past the sidewalk and onto the blacktop. They began yelling at him in Spanish, then they started beating him. I got on the phone and called the office, but the secretary must have still been out to lunch because there was no answer. So, I ran down the hallway to the principal's office, leaving the rest of my class unattended. What I found was Mr. Perez sitting back in his chair, playing the guitar.
Desiree was a girl who loved watching The Simpsons. I don't remember her very much because she never stood out. She was a mediocre student who did just enough to get by. She was petite, cute, and never caused my any problems. I thought she would be fully average, but she never got that chance. She was murdered in the eighth grade by a jealous friend. They were fighting over a boy. Cause of death: bullet wound to the head.
If you've ever seen The Exorcist, you have a pretty good idea what Rosemary was like whenever she had a spell. When she didn't feel like participating in something with the rest of the class, or didn't feel like doing her work, she'd crawl under one of the tables and shiver like a frightened badger ready to fight.
According to the Neo-Skinnerian theory, when a child throws a tantrum, it only benefits the child if he/she gets attention. It serves no purpose for a child to have a tantrum when he/she doesn't have an audience. I studied eight theories while taking that course, but in Rosemary's case I felt Skinner's made the most sense. It was Dr. Morrison who taught me various ways to put it into practice.
I heard the nurse announce, “I'm sorry, but we cannot issue a birth certificate at this time because the doctor cannot determine the sex of your baby.” That's when the party came to a crashing halt, and within minutes, everybody left. I remember seeing the young father walk over to the window by himself. He must have been in his early twenties and was in total shock. That's when I heard the music not of Handel, but of Barber. It was the Adagio, not the Messiah, that played in my head. That happened some twenty years ago, and I can only imagine the challenges that couple must have faced in raising their child. My heart still goes out to them even though I never knew them personally. The propinquity of this tragedy made me shudder with relief knowing that that other child could have been my own.
I was very lucky that Junior didn’t kill another child. He almost did when he kicked the legs out from under that first grader. He got away with hurting more children than I could keep track of. Junior was never punished. There were no consequences for his unruly behavior. We just had to monitor him at all times and put up with him. The main thing to remember is that Junior was just one child. I had eleven others, and all of them had special needs; needs that were ignored because of this one kid. In fact, I had four kids who should have never been placed with me: Junior, Ronnie, Jonah, and Justin.
Nathan Medina was born with a condition known as myotonic dystrophy. There are two types of this disease. Nathan had type one. This disease is similar to muscular dystrophy, but not quite as severe. Even still, it's a horrible disease that has no cure and always leads to a premature death. Nathan looked like a concentration camp victim, and his mother looked even worse.
When I looked into Christina's file, I discovered something utterly ridiculous. Grandma had taken her to a crackpot psychiatrist who had written a (Rx) prescription not for medication, but for an exorcism!!! I called that psychiatrist and asked her about it. She was clearly embarrassed. I also asked why she allowed the grandmother to get her way. She had no answer. I never knew what happened to Christina after she left my class. All I know is that I was able to keep Grandma in check while Christina was with me.
I had never been to Children's Hospital before, and going there left me with images I will never forget. Hugo was having his surgery when I got there, so I stayed with his mother and Hugo's little brother and sister. I once asked Hugo if he ever played with them. His reply was a quick and firm, “NEVER!” It wasn't that he didn't love them. Hugo just didn't want to appear weak. I guess he had to always be strong in order to deal with his condition. His mother, Betty, was grateful to see me and thanked me repeatedly. I was there until 1:00 a.m. Then, I drove back home in order to get a couple hours of sleep. I got to bed around 2:00 a.m. and slept for maybe three hours. I had to take my daughter to school, which was about five miles in the opposite direction of Bell Elementary. It was going to be a long and difficult day.
Dante Serrano could have been Ramiro's soulmate, and he might have been had it not been for his mother, who knew him for what he really was. He was actually a nice kid. I found that out once I got to know him. He once told me his mother named him after the devil. I told him that Dante wasn't the devil, but an author who wrote about a journey through hell. He replied, “Oh, yeah, I forgot.” I really don't think his mother even knew who the real Dante was, but told him that story because he was always causing problems. He was one of the most difficult students I ever had.
Cesar may have been dying of muscular dystrophy, but he had tremendous pride and respect for himself. Prior to being diagnosed with MD, Cesar was a perfectly normal child who used to roughhouse like any other child. According to his mother, he was always very rambunctious and didn't want to be pampered in any way. I often wondered what he might have become had he not been born with MD. More than likely, he would have ended up in jail. He liked being a tough guy. And that meant bumping heads with Ramiro.
In October 2015, a sixteen-year-old girl in a South Carolina high school refused to stop using her cell phone in math class. The teacher called the office, and the vice principal came to the classroom. The girl continued to be defiant, so the vice principal called the school police to have her arrested and removed. A senior deputy showed up, and the girl defied him, as well. He pulled her out of her desk and onto the floor. The girl got 8½ hours detention, the senior deputy lost his job, and now the FBI is deciding whether to arrest the senior deputy for violating the girl’s civil rights because she is black. Perhaps the cellphone isn’t the main issue in this matter, but I can’t imagine this ever happening over a book.
about; that white people have always hated Mexicans and that the police are “NO GOOD LIARS.” I guess she meant “terrible liars.” When I asked her about the Mexican police, she told me in front of the class that American police are the worst. I did not pursue the topic because I knew it was hopeless.
In February of 2006, Bozo went after me with a vengeance. I received a very long and detailed letter in the mail from the district office. The letter contained a dozen accusations against me. Some of these accusations were frivolous, but most were lies. I spent many years and thousands of dollars in earning two credentials and a master’s degree in Special Education. I had endured years of torment from kids who had no business being in my program. I had taken kids who could not learn how to read in the General Education program and turned them into readers. I would get children who were frustrated and without hope, yet managed to send them off to the next grade level with an attitude of confidence and success. Now, I was being viciously attacked by a principal who didn't have the slightest idea how to manage a school.
Martin Rosalez was born with DiGeorge syndrome. Humans are born with twenty-three pairs of chromosomes for a total of forty-six. DiGeorge syndrome is caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome twenty-two. The net results are much worse than one might figure. The child is born with a long list of disorders, i.e., learning disabilities, congenital heart disease, loss of hearing, autoimmune and immune disorders, seizures, etc. Martin was very similar to a child with Down syndrome, but he wasn't the least bit stubborn.
I had two other girls who caused all sorts of trouble: Niccole and Gabby. Niccole wasn't all that hard to figure out, but Gabby had issues that were potentially dangerous. Very dangerous. For starters, she was a pathological liar. It got worse from there.
Gabby was in a strange mood today. She started off by saying that Kobe Bryant was outside. Then, she told Mrs. Nissan and me that Jesus used to drive a car. After PE, she was saying that Jaime, the head custodian, was her father. When I told her to quit, she kept saying, "Well, he is!" When we told her to do her work, she pouted. When one of her classmates began giving Mrs. Reynoso and me a bad attitude, Gabby starting butting in even after told to mind her own business.
Ms. Perez can be described as Bozo on steroids, and I could have easily written an entire book on her alone. This heavy-duty woman always seemed to be munching on something, and she waddled about like a big fat goose. She spent most of the day sitting on her haunches behind her computer screen where she was constantly writing memos against teachers and other such nonsense that did absolutely nothing but divide the school and piss people off.
Mr. Cisneros told me that he used to be a heroin addict and had done time in San Quentin. He got shot while trying to rob a market, and the owner happened to have a gun. He told me that the man who shot him actually saved his life. When it came time for him to have his trial, he was wheeled into the courtroom while handcuffed to a hospital gurney.
Mr. Cisneros always ate lunch in the cafeteria with the kids. One day he passed out, and everybody thought he was dead. By the time the ambulance arrived, he had come to. He suffered a second fainting spell while I was pushing him in his wheelchair to the bus stop. A funny thing happened that day. A few days before Mr. Cisneros passed out, one of my more difficult squids, Diego Dominguez, got mad at Mr. Cisneros and yelled, “Hey, old man, I wish you were dead!” So, when Mr. Cisneros fainted, about half the class pointed their fingers at Diego and said, “Diego, you killed him! You killed Mr. Cisneros!”
The author of Inside Special Education,
Inside Special Education
Two Decades in the Snake Pit
Dedicated to my attorney,
Jeffrey R. Boxer