I recently attended a four day all-class reunion in my hometown of Struthers, Ohio. It's been many years since I spent more than a few hours there. My family moved away as well as most of my friends. I saw so many people I haven't talked to in 25 to 30 years. What a Hoot!
I could probably write a post about each person I talked to and how their interaction with me affected my life. I'm sure a few stories will trickle out of me in the coming months, but the rest of this post I'm going to concentrate on my friend Chad and his impact on the man I have become. As an impressionable teenager, I don't think anyone had an impact on me more than Chad.
Chad was the Special Education Teacher at Struthers High School during my years there in the 70's. Special Education was really still in it's infancy in those years, at least in Struthers. Poor Chad had to struggle to get ANYTHING for his classroom, including the classroom itself. Originally, class was held in a converted concession room in the field house, know as Room 99. All students became known as "99er's" by the regular student body, a nasty acronym as bad as calling someone mentally-challenged "Retarded". The Principal decided the school needed that room for other purposes and once again moved Chad's class to a small coach's office up the stairs in a farthest corner of the field house.
I originally befriended Chad on the freshman track team, when he was a coach. He had and still has a very easy-going nature and an infectious smile that immediately puts you at ease. I complained to him one day how boring school was because of all the Study Halls I had, instead of real classes. He told me he could always use help in his classroom and invited me to become a Teacher's Aid for him. I readily agreed and for the next three years, I spent every extra minute at school helping out in his class.
For some unknown reason, the kids with special needs became like part of my family. Chad came up with "Special Projects" for me that he said would be a challenge for me, but thought I could handle it. I fell right into his hands. He knew my competitive nature and that I wouldn't let him down once he put his trust in me. Most of the "Projects" involved me working one on one with a student. Usually it was related to learning the "three R"s, where a student was having particular difficulty grasping an understanding. He put me one-on-one with someone to learn multiplication tables, for instance. It was very rewarding to me to see "The Light Bulb" go off when they understood a concept.
Sometimes Chad would give me a task with a student that had nothing to do with school work. One pupil had very poor hygiene habits and wore dirty worn out clothes. Chad told me to take this boy under my wing and teach him proper bathing and personal hygiene, including how to wash clothes. Chad gave me phone numbers of agencies and churches and said the rest was up to me. A daunting task for a sixteen years old. In working with the boy, he gave me every excuse under the Sun for not being clean and having dirty clothes. His family was Dirt Poor, that much I understood. I received a small amount of money from a local church to buy him some clothes. I think socks, shoes, underwear, and three changes of clothes was all we could afford. It was a start. I had him shower every day in the gym locker room when no one else was around. The poor kid had never used a wash cloth or washed his hair with shampoo. We kept all his clothes and toiletries hidden away at school and washed his clothes in the washer and dryer used for the basketball team. Within a month, the transformation was incredible. The kid looked good and brimmed with confidence!
The High School principal, long known as a tyrant to students and staff alike, fought Chad over everything. A simple request like a chair with rollers on it for the concrete floor in his class room was denied. Every time Chad moved his squeaky wooden chair, it disrupted his class. Knowing of his dilemma, I "borrowed" his chair over night and installed Rollers on it. It was sitting in it's usual place the next morning under his desk. The look on his face was priceless the first time he glided across the floor, smiling from ear to ear.
For deeds like that and other clandestine acts of daring to obtain items for the class room that Chad couldn't get through normal channels, another young lady and myself were awarded Chad's first "Bonnie And Clyde Award". A small plastic Precious Moments-Type statue of a little boy and girl accompanied Chad's short speech at the end of the school year, thanking us for our efforts. Our celebration included the ever-present Popcorn and RC Cola that I'd slide out of school to obtain down the street at Mike's Party Shop.
The System finally got the best of Chad a couple of years later and he left the school to begin his own successful excavation business. I don't know if Chad ever regretted his decision to leave teaching. I know He had a lot of impact on every life he touched and everyone was better off in life having known him. His influence on me propelled me into seeking a teaching degree in Special Education and being kinder and gentler to those less fortunate in life. Thanks, Chad.