My story is not unlike many others who strived to achieve a better life for their families. A succession of minimum wage jobs followed a succession of moves: long distance telephone operator in Oakland, California until I fainted because I was pregnant and fell off the stool; waitress at a diner called “The Hungry Truck”; department store window dresser and retail worker in Milton, Florida; clerk-receptionist in Pensacola, Florida; day care worker in Coronado, California.
Then, with three children under twelve and a home to maintain, I attended college and worked part-time in the administration office. The middle school where I did my student teaching in Milton, Florida became integrated that year, the year Shirley Jackson ran for president. I landed my first teaching job in Whidbey Island, Washington, the beginning of a twenty-five year career in education.
While my husband served on three cruises during the Vietnam era, the children and I worked a small farm there in Washington—milking a cow, feeding chickens and pigs, gathering eggs, working a garden and harvesting bales of hay—then I went to my teaching job. Whenever my husband was transferred to a different duty station I out of necessity changed jobs as well.
The positions ran the gamut from teaching severely handicapped children in Washington, first graders in the military school in Sigonella, Sicily to teenage boys transitioning between incarceration and introduction back into society. There at Blackduck, Minnesota High School I had been tucked away in a small upstairs alcove so that neither the boys nor I could contaminate the regular students. These boys had all been traumatized at some point in their life and reacted by striking back at society. One Native American young man had witnessed his brother commit suicide by lying on the railroad tracks in front of a train. Another had been tortured by his mother by being scalded in boiling water.
“I could throw you down these stairs if I wanted to,” he said.
“Why would you do that?” I said as calmly as possible. These boys never acted out their violent threats and I learned to listen when they wanted to talk.
I moved on to teaching English to children in Honduras, then to working with so called “learning disabled” Navajo middle school children at a BIA school in New Mexico. These were the quietest and most agreeable youngsters I had ever met. They taught me the art of quiet reflection and the benefits of silent observation.
I spent the last fourteen years of my career in education teaching middle school science in Las Vegas, New Mexico—a school that was nearly one-hundred percent Hispanic. In fact I was laughingly referred to as their token Anglo. These children could be exuberant, rambunctious, competitive and charming. Silence was the unknown enemy to these youngsters.
Looking back I hold no grudges or regrets, I wouldn’t change a thing. There were numerous days of stress and fatigue, but did I ever once feel useless? Hell no. Life has always been a series of adventures and learning experiences and challenges—it was then and continues to be so to this day.