Some days, being a Special Education teacher is all about the chase.
The classroom phone rings, “Have you seen…?”
A teacher pops their head into the room, “I’m looking for…”
The Head Custodian texts “I found this kid in Stairwell C. Do you know he’s there?”
The Vice Principal sends an email, “Do not let this student leave the classroom unsupervised” right after I let the student leave the classroom, unsupervised.
And the chase is on. I casually glance under the stalls of the girls’ bathrooms. An EA checks the boys’ locker room. I call Guidance. I look outside that one door and in the hidden alcove under the other stairwell. I walk through the cafeteria then meander into the far back corner of the library. Most kids have preferred hiding places; most of the time we find them.
There must be a million reasons not to go to class. After all these years of teaching, I think I’ve heard them all, but of course I haven’t. And even if I have, my job is to hear the reason behind the reason. I absolutely believe Ross Greene’s idea that “children do well if they can,” so my burning question is always “why aren’t you in class?”
He says, “There’s no point in going anyway.”
And I slide down to the floor of the stairwell, tuck my skirt under my knees, shoulder to shoulder with a child who should be in class but isn’t, who should be passing but isn’t. “Tell me more.”
And he does. So much more. I’ve been listening to him for a while now – years, really – and things aren’t good. Some days I’ve lost my patience with him. I’ve told him to make a choice, to stop blaming others, to just go to class for Heaven’s sake. He’s walked out on me, come back, talked and even cursed. I’ve sat next to him during tests, made him take out his ear buds so he has to listen, even set my hand on his shoulder to help him settle down while we breathed in and out together. I’ve spoken to his father, to his mother, to his teachers. I’ve chased him before.
Today I’ve found him. Today he can’t see any way out. Today he can’t imagine that things will change. Today we talk about his dad and his mom and his brother and rehab and rehab and rehab. I tell him what I know – which is not much – but I know that things are always changing, that six months from now will not look like today. That he is changing, that life is change and that sometimes crisis leads us to new opportunities.
I’ll chase him again another day, I know. And if not him then another student, another child who needs to be found and needs to be heard. Because I’ve learned that the trick to the chase is not to know where a student is going, but to recognize where they’ve been.