Goodbye Is Just A Word

06/20/2009
Skittles.
Image via Wikipedia

Goodbye is such a weak word. I had to say it a few times this week and it does not begin to express the emotions I felt any of the times.

One of the goodbyes was final and I hope the others will not be.

The final goodbye was to my family’s beloved lab/setter mutt we adopted as an adult dog just days before he was going to be put down because he’d been in the shelter for six months and no one seemed to want him. He turned out to be the most loving, human-oriented, fun and happy dog I have ever met.

Oh, he had his issues, including what is now known as the night of the exploding dog. He somehow got into the special anti-hairball food we had for our two cats (different ones than we have now). Anti-hairball food works on animals much the way prunes and bran do on humans. He ate about four or five pounds of the food. About an hour later he started exploding. Use your imagination.

Magic loved to chase bunnies, deer and skunks. We live on a moderately busy state road On Wednesday night he chased a deer across the road and was hit by a car as he crossed back to come home. He died about 45 minutes later at the animal hospital. There were tears and hugs and more tears.

A couple of years after we adopted Magic I started graduate school in order to become a teacher. One of the professors at the school, herself the mother of three then-adult developmentally-delayed sons, told her special education methods class that “If you know how to train a dog you know how to teach special education.”

On occasion I get very literal and I wasn’t sure that she actually meant that I should offer bits of desiccated beef liver as rewards for good effort in class, but in a way that’s exactly what she meant.

The best way to train a dog is to consistently reward desired behavior with a favored treat and praise. Unwanted actions are met with sharply toned rebuke and patience. Dogs, being generally Pavlovian and sharp thinkers, quickly get the idea that they should continue to sit still and not get distracted by the pretty golden retriever on his right or the schnauzer getting into a tiff with the wire-haired terrier off to the left.

If only it were that easy in special education. The ideas are the same, but students are generally more complex than dogs, and when training a dog one rarely has to deal with the bitch that gave birth to him.

The goodbyes that I hope will not be final were to the students on whom I got my first full-time opportunity to try out my professor’s theory. The students, who in sixth grade were the victims of my first attempt at having my own class, graduated eighth grade yesterday and I was fortunate to be released from my classes to attend.

At some point in that sixth grade class I told those students that I did not intend to ever let go of them, that I would be their teacher in one way or another for as long as they were in our school, and I kept my word. When they moved onto 7th grade I frequently checked on them in person and through their teachers. I knew who was thriving and who was struggling and I would offer tutoring, praise, Skittles (desiccated liver for teenagers) and an ear. Their classroom was just across the hall from mine and I made a point of chatting with their parents when they showed up for conferences. This year I had those same students in my Read180 program. I kept my word about never letting go of them. Until yesterday.

Yesterday they looked sharp and proud in their caps and gowns. There were tears and hugs and more tears. And photographs. And smiles. And Skittles.

I will never see Magic again, but I really hope those challenging but lovable young ladies and men come to visit.

I’m keeping lots of bags of Skittles around just in case.

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Why I Am a Union Man

03/25/2009

Today is the 98th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in which 146 young women, many of them teenagers, died in a fire on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building, then a modern factory-loft building thought to be fireproof.

March 25th, 1911 was a typical day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. located in lower Manhattan. A couple of hundred women, mostly immigrant teenagers, were hard at work as cutters, at sewing machines and as pressers. They were hardworking women who were paid by the piece.

These women felt safe. They were in America, the greatest nation on earth. They had jobs, and while they had to work very hard, they were earning their keep and, some of them, supporting parents and grandparents. They were working in a modern building, built to the highest standards of the day and reported to be fireproof.

Then the fire broke out.

There was really nothing to worry about. The building had fire exits that led to stairwells that led to the street. Everyone could get out safely. That was the plan when the building was erected. Safety first.

There was only one problem. The bosses at the factory made a small alteration. In order to prevent the women from taking breaks or going out to smoke or chat the bosses had done what bosses all over the City did.

They chained the fire exit doors shut. All of them.

Panic. Women were killed as they were pressed against the steel doors by dozens of women trying desperately to escape.

Women were killed by inhaling the smoke generated by a fire attacking a hundred or more bolts of fabric ready to be cut.

Women were killed when they jumped out the windows of the ninth and tenth floors, figuring that gave them a better chance of survival than anything else.

Some did survive. They were lucky enough to not hit the cement sidewalk because they landed on the bodies already there and were not killed by the other bodies landing on them.

One hundred forty-six lives lost because the bosses were greedy and chained the fire doors closed.

There are still greedy bosses. That’s why I’m a union man.

Look at the pictures before you start to argue with me:
fire and its aftermath

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