Out of respect, all the names of the people I work with & for have been changed.
The doors swing open, spilling paraprofessionals and teachers through them both ways. Cast your gaze a few inches downwards and you’ll notice each one of the adults are holding the hand of a kindergartener or pre-schooler, ushering the youth in & out of the building. It’s my first day on the job, and I’ve been called in to take care of a specific situation. Usually I work with kids from low-income neighborhoods with troubled families. Mentoring anger to a reasonable dialogue, or simply talking someone out of daily violence has been my forte. My dad was/is horrible with kids, and my mother generally worked with the sick & dying, so I have no clue where I get it from. Maybe I’m not a fan of seeing a kid go down the same hallway I did throughout my early academic tenure, or perhaps it’s the quickly passing work hours.
My mind’s wandering and the confidence I usually stone-face thru a school building is looking a bit lost, at the moment. I can’t tell which one of these 4 ft. tall pre-schoolers is my specific situation. I’ve been hired to deal with one kid, one kid in a class room apart from the others: Sid.
My immediate higher-up, Ginny, explains each child in our classroom as they tumble through the doors. Sid’s not here yet, at least not to any measure of Ginny’s previous description of him. Her and Zoe have explained Sid as tougher than nails, sporadic as a Prius with shoddy brakes, and a right hook like Tyson in his teenage years. I’m not fully intimidated, but the amount of build-up has to be taken seriously. This is a secondary school, and Ginny & Zoe have been working with kids with special needs for decades. The amount of expertise between the two teachers could tempt a university to throw them the keys, and fire their entire adolescent psychology department. In short, when Ginny & Zoe say the kid has issues in an issue-based classroom… word is bond.
The fast pace plethora of exit & entrance slows a bit, and the smallest/shortest child of any of the kids I’d seen throughout, enters hand in hand with a woman I assume to be his mother. Ginny welcomes him, “Hi Sid! How are you today?”
Sid gives Ginny no answer and tucks himself towards his mother’s leg to hug her. It’s the sort of hug that says “Look, I know I have to be here, and you have to leave, but if you were at all going to reconsider dropping me off at school… now, would be the time to get me the hell out of here”. Sid let’s go acceptingly and takes Ginny’s hand. The entire time looking at me, and for a moment I understand what the ruckus is all about. The furrow of Sid’s eyebrows rests naturally to the look of or Clint Eastwood’s face (circa 1984) or an olympic high jumper mean mugging the bar before striding towards it. This child doles out respect where it’s due, not where teacher told him to. There is no filter between his speech and his heart, the truth is common sense, and he’s more than willing to call bulls---t if you try and pull that adult nicety crap on him.
“Who is he?” Sid asks Ginny. “Oh, this is Toussaint. He’s one of our new helpers”, she responds.
We ascend the stairs to the classroom. I take a spot in a short line of 4 year-olds yet to be, or already diagnosed, with autism, asperger’s syndrome, or an emotional behavior disorder. Welcome to your first day on the job as a pre-kindergarten paraprofessional.