Once upon a time there was a chubby old lady who loved to teach. She loved to watch the lights come on where others had claimed there was only darkness. She liked to think she helped a few avoid despair. She could overlook/understand foul language in teenagers who had been denigrated for ten years of school life. (And she frequently used a few choice words herself.)
Being zealous had its consequences. No matter where she taught, Administrators found more and more students for her classes. It troubled her deeply that no one seemed to understand that Learning Difficulties can occur as often in the” very bright” as in those more severely challenged. But no one was interested in her opinion; she often felt that she was considered as challenged as her students.
Finally, at the end of the year in Quebec - when she was assigned a class of 34 troubled Basic Grade 9 Math students while the “brilliant” Physics teacher had 14 of “the brightest and best” upstairs - the chubby old lady screamed “enough!” and left the public system.
She went to Europe and taught in an International School – children of the rich and famous – who had problems very similar to those she had taught in the public system at home. But here her title was “Learning Specialist” and even teachers of International Baccalaureate Diploma Students came to her to brainstorm about students who struggled. Together they scored some notable successes.
Inevitable (but infrequent) differences were easily managed by the school Headmaster. The buck stopped there. It was a simple, efficient system with comparatively easy collaboration between teachers, students, parents, and administrators.
A few years later, in the heart of London England, the chubby old lady was awarded a second-floor office within two months of her arrival. Up from the basement room near the coal cubby under the high street, to an elevated, bright, office space that overlooked the training parades of the Queen’s Guard. The chubby old lady was amazed and a little overwhelmed. And she learned a lot by reading assessments written by top neuropsychologists from two continents.
Family medical issues forced the old lady to give up her wandering and return to Ontario. Back in the Ontario public system she was immediately exposed to specialist colleagues who did not hesitate to dismiss her explanations of possible neurological variables with comments like “These kids just have to realize they are lazy and stupid!” And walk away. Back to being treated like one of the “challenged”.
The chubby old lady had a contact at the Ontario Ministry who understood well, having an ambidextrous child of his own. But his bureaucratic hands were tied by Ministry colleagues who had never heard of neuro-physiological anomalies and who felt they had the right to ignore fMRI studies. The chubby old lady grew tired of waiting for enlightenment to dawn within the bureaucracy and could no longer tolerate the dismissive attitudes of her very young colleagues.
Since family matters had settled somewhat, the chubby old lady decided she might as well go to China. Once again she experienced the simple International system where school owners and administrators were resident, and where lines of power were clear and immediately accessible.
But now she recognized a troubling pattern in all three International Schools. There was a constant need to refer students for extra tutoring. The Kumon company was quick to set up nearby to cover the Basics Skills that the IB system seemed to ignore in its rush to “higher-level thinking skills”. IB Teachers were expected to “reflect” on their practice, but their conclusions had to be “in synch” with IB philosophy. The chubby old lady’s reflections did not fit and were not welcomed.
When her contract with the International School came to an end, she decided to accept a standing offer to set up a program for a little private ESL school in Beijing . The next two years were pure bliss for a zealot. The chubby old lady was finally free to put her 45 years of training and experience into developing a program that ensured success for every child. She worked very long, very happy hours for a charming, uneducated Chinese-Canadian who loved the fact that she taught, trained other staff, and wrote the program, while being paid only as a teacher. The chubby old lady didn’t mind; she wallowed in job-satisfaction and happy children!
The little school grew rapidly and had a long waiting list of students, when the owner suddenly imported a self-professed new “guru” and changed course dramatically. (Typical of the impulsive actions of the neurologically unique.) The chubby old lady came home and kept in touch with disappointed Chinese parents and their children on-line.
She missed the classroom terribly, but did not return to teaching in the public system. Even when she knew she was being lied to in Beijing, there had been some small comfort in knowing exactly where the lies were coming from and who was pulling the strings. In Ontario, the bureaucracy had grown so far out of reach that one was only tilting at windmills. Expensive windmills.
The chubby old lady was tired. She had left Ontario knowing too much. Wasn’t it possible for Boards to fool Ministry auditors simply by forcing their Educational Assistants to lie about workloads? And she had been there when one Board announced its intention to cut support services IN HALF within a week of the Ministry announcing an additional $10 million for Special Education. She was tired of hearing about high salaries in high places, about Public Trustees being sworn to silence for life, about nepotism and travel expenses and lavish catered meals. All while student results floundered.
In the Chinese system such behavior could be expected. That was “Communism” after all. But their results were stellar.
This was home. And this was Democracy. And this was just the way it was.
So the chubby old lady finally dropped out.