When I rounded the corner to the room I did what every person would do in that situation. I went for the handle. After a few clinks and a couple expletives, under my breath of course, I shrugged my shoulders and knocked on the door. How am I supposed to cover a room I can't get into? Then....then...a magic hand came from behind and then another one and it was then I realized this wasn't just any classroom, it was completely locked down.
After the paraprofessional pressed a big red button and then pushed open the door within three seconds (coordination I didn't have apparently), she explained that the doors were engineered to prevent flight risks. Oddly enough, I was excited because this wasn't going to be the typical math class or social studies class where the lesson plans would include a video that was completely unrelated to the subject area. The lesson was in fact about life.
I took my spot at the teacher's desk because I was afraid to get in the paraprofessionals' way. There were four kids. The one sitting to my left, (I'll call him Pablo), was a head trauma victim who had very limited verbal abilities and no writing abilities. He was happily playing Dora, but he was making his own music to go along with it. Pablo had eaten something for lunch that wasn't agreeing with his stomach and the disagreement was coming out in thin, raspy high pitch chords that could possibly result in some messy clean-up.
To my right was "Frank" whose job was shredding paper. With his nose nearly touching the shredder, he carefully put in piece after piece, only pausing to wipe dry erase marker off the board in front of him a single sweep at a time. His severe chromosomal damage made it difficult for me to discern any real emotion, but he was consumed by the motion of each paper and his connection to those motions. It was almost in rhythm with the raspiness of Pablo's toots.
"Pablo!" said the para. "What do you say?"
"Sooory," he slurred with a smile
A little further to my right was "Paul," a severely autistic 18-year-old who was also battling OCD and also really loved picture books, especially ones with flowers. When I looked up I noticed he had planted both pointer fingers, one in each nostril. Then, CLUNK! CLUNK! CLUNK! His head pounding began but its purpose was necessary. His hair was worn away on one side because he would pound his head against the table to soothe himself. Then he would examine his treasures on both pointer fingers and re-insert.
Directly in front of me was Linda, a strong mind trapped by cerebral palsy. The only way she could show excitement was by choking and spewing saliva, but she understood everything that was taking place around her. But the best was the para who said, "If you hear barking about every 10 minutes, don't worry, it's just me. I have Tourettes."
What still sticks with me is how much love those paras had for other people's children, and how all their (the kids and teachers) little idiosyncrasies made such a delightful, honest, complex picture. They love them enough to change their pants, hold their boogery hands and coo over them as if these special needs children were their own. They celebrate every victory, including their own, behind walls no one usually sees; and they do it from their hearts because the pay is an insult. They love their kids and more importantly, their kids--the ones that other people perceive as broken--love them back.