An Open Letter to the Teachers at the Special Ed School Behind My House

Dear Teachers,

The first thing I heard was the rattle of the gate, which I thought was odd because it was the middle of the day.  Everybody who might hop the fence should be in school, but somebody wasn’t.  Then I heard you.

“Adam*,” you asked, “Why did you climb over the fence?”

“Because I’m sick of this,” he yelled.  “You guys are mean and unfair.”

You answered in a calm voice, asking how and why, saying again and again, “I want to understand why you are upset.”  You repeated over and over, “I want to talk to you.”

"You guys are..." Adam shouted, each time leveling a new accusation upon you.  Unfair, mean, monsters, hateful.

You unlocked the gate, and he asked, “Are you unlocking the gate?”

“Yes,” you replied.  I heard you tell him that another teacher was on his way to the other side of the alley, and then Adam took off.  It was too late, though, because the other teacher was there.

I considered calling the police because I was concerned for your safety, but your voices held me back.  You stayed so calm.  You were so remarkably calm.  I heard the struggle in Adam’s voice, the rage, the fury at not being understood and wanting to lash out at every force that lashed against him in the world, and I heard your calm voices.  I heard you say again and again, “We want to keep you safe.”  And I knew it was true because he could very easily have run into the street.

I think Adam was pinned to the ground.  He sounded so angry, threatening you, telling you he wanted to hit you or kick you or something worse, and you stayed so calm.  You spoke so quietly and respectfully and compassionately to this boy, this boy!, who was obviously struggling, and you wanted so badly for him to get up and walk back into school under his own power.  You gave him more chances than I’ve ever given my kids.

You worked with him for a long time and I do not know the outcome.  I stopped listening because hearing children struggle hurts my soul.

But I want to pass this along.  Your extraordinary compassion, patience, and love testify your dedication to the life of this student.  I never heard you complain.  You never blamed him.  You never accused him.  You simply repeated, “We want to keep you safe.”

I don’t know what it all means.  It might mean nothing.  It might mean that your high level of training, experience, and knowledge make occurrences like this commonplace.  But for me, it wasn’t.  For me, this experience highlighted the difference between your job and everybody else’s.   Most folks who walk into an office don’t deal with threats of getting punched in the ribs by someone they love.  They won’t deal with the possibility of that person’s relatives working against them.  They won’t deal with the whims of a system that willfully leaves this child underfunded and his teachers overworked and underpaid.  It means that you and this child perpetually get less, yet you need and deserve so much more.

I guess I just want to say that what I heard broke my heart into a thousand pieces and yet, each day you come to work, yours gets broken, repaired, and re-broken on a daily basis.  It’s part of the job.  You are amazing.

That’s all I’ve got.

*The boy's name has been changed.