I told a story some time ago about a boy in my class who needed to use elbow crutches. I’m going to tell it again but with a different introduction.
Since reading Fran’s book “Trapped” I have looked back a bit and I wonder if I did the right thing. Maybe Fran can comment.
After I gave up on the law because I would rather sit at my desk after a session at the Mitre Tavern and write really pathetic poetry I went bush for a while and then took up School Teaching.
In one of my classes there was a young lad, Tony, who had something wrong with his legs and needed to walk with those horrible elbow crutches. The trouble was that about five minutes after I had started on the road to educating the simpletons of this world the door would be flung open and Tony would be standing at the door, huffing and puffing, the class would stop and all would wait while Tony hurled his bag into the room and then staggered up the one step into the room, picked up his bag and made his way to his desk. This went on for a few weeks until I decided enough was enough. Now my Mother had taught me to treat people with a disability as being ordinary. (Or to use a phrase Fran uses – ‘disability blind’ )
So on this day I stopped Tony in his tracks just as he was coming into the room.
“You’re late Tony. You have been late to my class every day since the start of term. You will not be late again. Any boy who is repeatedly late is given a detention. If you are late tomorrow you will be given a detention.”
“Can’t you see I can’t walk properly. It takes me longer to get here than everyone else. It’s not fair.” Tony was angry and yelled at me. He was an angry boy.
“And it’s not fair that you interrupt the class every time you come in late. If it takes you five minutes longer to get to class, then start five minutes earlier. Now sit down.”
For the rest of that day and far into the night I worried that I may have been a bit hard on him. The next morning I was certain I had. In my pigeon-hole there was a brief note from the Principal on a small blue strip of paper that all young teachers feared.
“See me at 9.05. GC.”
A summons. This was terrible. Tony must have told his mother and she had complained to the Principal. Mrs Badham had a reputation as being quite a forceful lady. Now it was my turn to come face to face with her.
I knocked on the door to the star chamber and the Principal came out. He left the door open but did not immediately invite me in. Instead he said, “I believe you had words with Tony Badham yesterday. Is that true? Mrs Badham is here to talk to you about Tony. Please go in.”
I quaked in my boots but put on a brave face, although when I saw her I knew I was about to die. She was large, full breasted and six-foot tall. A formidable woman.
She stepped toward me on giant steps, flung wide her imposing arms and embraced me in a bear hug.
“I want to thank you so much,” she said. “You are the first teacher Tony has had from kindergarten to now, the very first and only teacher, who has treated my son as if he were just an ordinary boy.”
The Principal stood to one side as this confrontation took place. There was a faint smile on his face.
Tony was never again late to one of my classes and some years later he was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
I wonder, now, if I would have treated him so abruptly. I think I would have made the same demand but I might have approached it more gently. I was young and inexperienced and I think I would have got to know the boys in my class a little better than I did. I actually don’t remember any of the boys I taught in the first few years – except Tony. Later on I made it a serious practice to have myself invited to coffee with the parents of each boy in my home-room. But that’s a story for a post all of its own.