This last week I have found myself constantly with an image of a desk in my mind’s eye. There was a girl, there was a resource officer, there were other students, and there was a teacher. But, what stands out most to me is the desk. I think that there was one other person in this nation that may have been even more affected than I was by the sight of that desk and it hitting the floor. I’ve been thinking about her a lot this week.
We have to go back to 1997 for this to make sense. Since we have to go back 18 years, right about this time of year, which should clue you in to the impact. I was a 7th grade teacher in a large suburb of a city in the Deep South. We’ll leave it at that for the location. I was teaching a small class that was labeled “Mixed Resource Special Ed”. These were kids that were generally in mainstream classes except for their math and English because of the gap between them and their peers. I was out of my trained area and most likely out of my depth. This was my last classroom in a school setting.
To the point.
This collection of students ranged from one that was on the spectrum with obsessive/compulsive tendencies to a couple that I was convinced at the time had made themselves “special ed”. This had come from their behavior over the course of their years of school. The defiance and unwillingness to comply directed toward me daily – and I’m sure I wasn’t the first – had left a few in this group grades behind in reading and math skills. I could see the ones who tried, but just couldn’t get it. They needed this class so badly. They didn’t need the added distraction of the others.
The end of the first quarter brought exam day. The instructions were simple. When you finish your work sit in your seat quietly until the others are done. Simple. Just sit, no talking. Simple.
This proved to be too hard for one girl. This is the one I referred to at the beginning. Sitting was not on her agenda. Being quiet was not on her agenda. I had to go to her twice to remind her to sit back down in her seat and stop talking. She was up and leaning over to her right to talk to another girl. Twice.
At first there was the sly grin of “you caught me”, then the pain must’ve started.
“There’s blood on the floor! There’s blood on the floor!” from one of the students.
She held her left hand up and looked down to see the blood. Something was wrong. The end of her ring finger was missing. It lay on the floor inches from where the edge of the desk had hit the floor. The ceramic edge had cut it off from her weight. She was holding on to the side of the top when she had leaned to far and tipped.
Just sit. Simple.
We got her in the ambulance with her fingertip and the local hospital performed reattachment surgery. It was unsuccessful. I knew this would impact her for the rest of her life. This, after all, is the finger where a wedding band is placed. The part I haven’t old you yet is that both of her parents are Deaf. That capital D is intentional, it’s cultural and part of who they are. If your parents are Deaf, you communicate with sign language. You need both hands.
I looked this student up on Facebook the other day, and I found her. I scrolled through photos of her and her children. In ever shot where her left hand was visible it was covered by her right or the last two fingers were folded under. My heart ached. This event had become part of who she was in every photo and how she carries herself. I imagine there is shame, possibly some anger directed toward herself, probably more than a dash of regret.
Just sit. Simple.
I wondered what she thought when she saw that desk on the news hit the floor. What did she think about the girl, the officer, the girl’s future, her own past?
My heart ached for a former student and for a student I’ve never met. It still does.
I think about that teacher.
I think about that teacher.
I became the teacher that cut your finger off if you talked in my class. No, really. I was the one.
How will this teacher be known?
I’m not writing this to comment on the specific actions in that classroom in SC. I’m writing about the fact that when I see those videos, I see the desk hit the floor. We all bring our histories with us and they are the filters for our eyes. It’s hard to overcome, but it is also just as hard to read into a situation you may have never experienced.
The chair tipping wasn’t an isolated event in my shared experience with my student. It didn’t stop there either. I spent hours in the hospital waiting for her to come out of surgery. I was there with her parents. The school hadn’t thought to summon the interpreter for the hospital. Fortunately, this was my trained area. I was at the hospital the next day as well.
That was my last year of teaching. She is the only student whose name I remember. She is the one I think of when I see that chair hit the floor.
Photo is of a similar Virco Martest 3000 Series 3700BR Student Desk (3700BR) from Amazon.