Disclaimer: There is a word that may be offensive in this story; my apologies to anyone who reads it and may be offended, but is written in the vernacular of the times. Please do not think it reflects the attitude of this author either now or then.
Before mentally and physically challenged children were mainstreamed, there was a class that was labeled Special Education, often shortened to Special Ed. At least that was the name for it at Annie’s elementary school. There weren’t many kids in the class, perhaps seven or eight with various degrees of handicaps. Many of them had behavioral issues which added to their other handicaps, and they were generally tightly controlled by their teacher, Miss Spreckler.
Miss Rose Spreckler was not tall, perhaps, all of five feet. She had never married, wore her hair in braids which she wrapped around her head, and had greasy looking skin. Her face, in particular, was extremely oily, which included the warty growths on her cheeks and nose. Despite her size and looks, or maybe because of them, she could keep her pupils, even the tall ones that towered above her, cowed with a word and look. In all fairness, she was tough in regards to discipline, but generous and kind at the smallest achievement.
Annie’s first experience with the Special Ed group happened when her first grade class was walking to the bathroom. Miss Spreckler’s students had just exited the bathroom, and a few of the boys were acting up, that is, until she clapped her hands together. Not only did the boys straighten up, but so did the other group in the corridor, Annie’s class. That was the first time Annie noticed that some of the kids didn’t seem too bright; it was enhanced when one of the boys made a face at the girls in Annie’s class. To Annie, it was a bit scary because she had always had difficulty when she saw handicapped people, whether a child or adult. It was just one of those things that both saddened and bothered her.
Most of the time, Annie didn’t think too much about the Special Ed class. They were just part of the school. For the most part, her greatest joy at school was learning how to read, and she found herself in the “Brownies,” the top reading group. It wasn’t referred to as the “top” group, of course, but it wasn’t hard to figure out because the Brownies were the first to read a book called Guess Who. The other groups, the Redbirds and the Bluebirds, were still trudging through a book that her group had already finished.
The following year Annie found herself in a class with lots of new-to-her kids. While a few of her classmates from first grade were there, most of the others weren’t. One of them, however, had been placed in Miss Spreckler’s class, and Annie couldn’t figure out why. Davey seemed okay to her; he wasn’t a Brownie, but he also didn’t seem like those other kids in Special Ed. So, why was he moved? He didn’t seem like a “retard” as she had heard other kids whisper about the kids in Special Ed. To Annie, it didn’t make sense. Why would someone suddenly move? She wondered. Moreover, it made her doubt her own abilities. Although she previously felt smart, now she wasn’t so sure especially as she got to know her new classmates.
Like the previous year, there were reading groups. It wasn’t as obvious, but it might have been based on the ability to silently read. Annie didn’t have problems during silent reading, but others did.
When the first spelling bee occurred, Annie messed up on the first round. Her word was field, but she switched the letters around. Blushing furiously as she returned to her seat, Annie felt like crying. She didn’t, but as she sat there, she vowed to herself that if the class ever had another spelling bee, she would be one of the best spellers, or at least, not be the first to fail. Eventually, other kids messed up and the spelling bee ended.
Whether it was the spelling bee or some other reason, Annie knew she wasn’t in the top group any more. She really didn’t think much about it except that she realized that the group that had Becky and Cathy, who were not only best friends, but obviously the smartest students in the class, had better, more interesting stories to read aloud. Annie would listen and focus on their stories at the same time she was doing her own seat work (as it was called). Annie knew that eventually she would get to read these stories, but she wanted to read them now.
Several months later, Annie heard a knock on the classroom door. Like the rest of class, she looked up from her desk. Mrs. Wright, her teacher, opened the door, and there stood Miss Spreckler. “Annie, could you come here?” her teacher said.
Her freckled face flushing red, Annie slowly rose from her seat and walked to the front of the class. Once again, she was embarrassed and felt humiliated. She just knew her classmates were staring at her back. She knew she probably would be, too, if it was someone else being called out of class for whatever reason.
“Please come with me, Annie,” Miss Spreckler said. Her voice was not at all what Annie expected. It was soft, if a bit gruff-sounding, but also brooked no argument. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; Annie knew that teachers and principals were to be obeyed without question so Annie walked silently behind the teacher. Annie wasn’t quite sure where she was going, but she followed Miss Speckler down the long hallway and up the stairs to her Special Ed classroom on the second floor. Actually, Annie had never been in this part of the building before.
When Annie walked into the room, she was shocked. Throughout the room, seated at desks, were all the Special Ed students, the “retards.” She didn’t know why she was there, but she knew that it couldn’t be good. She, like Davey, was being transferred. She didn’t feel like she belonged here, but obviously, she did. Why else would she be there? She was dumb! All these thoughts raced through Annie’s mind in a matter of seconds.
“Please sit here, Annie,” Miss Spreckler said as she indicated an empty desk in the middle of her class. To the left, ahead, and behind her sat the other kids. The student in front of her turned around and grinned at Annie. The others turned and watched her as well until their teacher asked them to turn back around and finish their worksheets. “If you want to go to recess,” she said, without having to finish the sentence. The threat of losing recess hanging over their heads, all scrutiny of Annie ended.
Now, Miss Spreckler focused on Annie. “I have some papers for you to do, too,” she said. To Annie, they reminded her of tests, rather than worksheets. “Just do your best,” she continued as she put the first sheet in front of Annie. Annie did one sheet after another; some of them she finished, while others she didn’t quite finish. Most of them didn’t seem too difficult, but she was sure that something must be wrong with her. Why else would she be here? How was she going to explain this to her Mom and Dad? They would be so disappointed in her. She thought to herself.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Annie was finished. Miss Spreckler, her students, and Annie all walked out together. This class was heading out to recess, and Annie was dropped off at the door of her classroom. As Annie returned to her seat, Mrs. Wright stepped out into the hall to talk to Rose. All of her classmates’ eyes were on her; she could feel them staring at her. She looked down at her desk, as her pale face once again flushed red in embarrassment.
When it was time for recess, she couldn’t wait to escape the stares of her classmates, but many of them came up to her and asked where she had been and what she had been doing all this time. A few of them gave her looks of pity and avoided her entirely as if she was contagious. Annie couldn’t wait for the day to end and the bus ride home.
When she got home, she didn’t tell her parents about her day. She was too embarrassed and wanted to keep it a secret. Annie hoped they never found out she went to the Special Ed class.
The next day, everything returned to normal for Annie. Although Annie kept expecting to be moved at any time, she never revisited the Special Ed classroom. Eventually, Annie stopped worrying about it as other concerns took precedence that would make her blush in shame.
Until many years later, she never knew why she took those tests. The truth was that her Mom and Dad had not only known about the tests, but they had authorized them after her teacher had been concerned about Annie’s reading skills. Moreover, her parents were not upset with the results when it proved that Annie was reading better than anyone suspected. Of course, nothing really changed for Annie; she still had to do her schoolwork as Mrs. Wright expected.