hy don’t you have any kids?” inquired a young child. “Because all of my students are my children,“ replied my third grade teacher. At that time, I didn’t know what she really meant by this. I thought she literally meant that all of us were her children. Everyone in the class except Marc had their faces scrunched up in thought. Marc, on the other hand, was staring at the ceiling with his mouth agape and tongue sticking up. I stared at Marc and wondered, “What is he doing?” During class I noticed that Marc would always get more special attention from the teacher. She would always slowly and patiently explain things to him, while the rest of the class sped on through with the rest of the material. One day, Marc didn’t show up in class. In fact, he seemed to stop coming to school or so I thought. Marc actually was in our school, he was just in a different class. Marc joined, what we third graders called, the “special” class. One would think that the “special” class would be for students who were exceptionally smart, but it was actually for the kids with disabilities. We didn’t fully understand what the class was or what it did, but we all assumed it was for kids who weren’t as capable as normal kids. They were different, and that was bad. Even today, different is considered bad. We weren’t mean to the “special” kids, but we weren’t friendly to them either. The relationship between a kid with a disability and a “normal” kid would be one of mild reservation. Often times on the playground, there were two different groups of kids: the “special” kids group and the “normal” kids group. It was so natural that we didn’t even notice we were excluding a whole group of people.
Diane Corbett has shoulder length fine blond hair. Surrounding her clear blue eyes are wrinkles that gave me the impression that she laughs a lot. She prefers her students call her Diane because she feels that it encourages the type of relationship she wants to have with her students. Yet, when I first met Diane, I was admittedly intimidated. I was her student in the color guard section of the marching band. Diane teaches the color guard unit and special education at Mountain View High. She demanded a lot from me as a student as well as a young adult. Her everyday actions reflected her values in which everyone should keep an open mind. Although Diane doesn’t having any kids yet, she treats all of her students as if they were her own kids. During a another hot three hour practice after school, Renée, a color guard student, began to grow increasingly wary and irritated from the long day. Renée started to roll her eyes and goof off during practice. We were all tired, including Diane, but we knew that we had to keep practicing for the upcoming performance. She marched straight towards Renée and said in a deadly calm voice, “Renée, you need to stop giving me this attitude right now. You’ve been moaning and complaining this entire practice. Stop it” (Corbett). At first, one might be shocked at how casual and blunt Diane’s scolding was, but it just shows how she treats her students as if we were her children. Diane Corbett is a teacher who doesn’t work for money, but to improve the lives of others. She is the one of the leading activists against bullying at Mountain View High. She creates a warm and safe environment for high schoolers especially students with special needs through the use of education and inclusion. She became the person she is today because of her role model, Holly Wade. Diane puts it in these terms: “The compassion and passion behind what [Holly Wade] did was addicting and I wanted to model myself to be like her” (Corbett).
When I first asked Diane what motivated her into becoming a special education teacher, I assumed it was because she might have had a significant connection with a child with a disability during her time in school. This was not the case. Diane was inspired to become a special-ed teacher during her time as a dance teacher at Saratoga High School. She states, “I kinda fell into it. I was teaching dance at Saratoga High School and they wanted me on campus more. They introduced me to being a one-to-one aid for a student with down syndrome and I fell in love with what I was doing. I changed my major from nutrition to liberal studies and became a teacher” (Corbett). In fact she explains, “most of the kids with disabilities were in county programs so you really starting seeing more and more programs in the 90s than during the late 80s and early 90s when I was going to school. There wasn’t a stereotype because we didn’t really interact, so we didn’t really know too much” (Corbett). During the 1970’s, “one million children with special needs were not in school due to their disabilities” (Ciara 1). Awareness about students with an impairment have come a long way from the 90s. Now, the student body is aware of special-ed students at a very young age. Although students recognize the existence of these students, I don’t think they fully comprehend the meaning because there are still some students who cringe as students with physical disabilities pass through the halls while others stare, but some students react the opposite notion: they lash out.
In the movies, bullies would pick on the students who were shy or “not normal,” like the students wearing neon tights or purple lipstick. In each case, the bullied student didn’t know they weren’t “normal.” To them, clothes, makeup, and hair cuts were just a way of expressing themselves. This same situation can be applied to students with disabilities who are bullied. Diane reveals, ”...some of [her] students know when they have a disability and they know when their disability affects their day to day life. And then others really have no idea that they are any different from anyone else on this campus” (Corbett). So why would a bully tease a student with a disability? I had to see from a bully’s perspective to answer this question. I think it is because they want an outlet to make themselves feel better. Perhaps they are scared of students with special needs. Bullies are scared to interact with students with disabilities because they physically look different and are have a different set of social skills. Sadly, “Students with a visible disability are more at risk of being bullied by a peer” (Dallas 1). Looks go a long ways in today’s society and there doesn’t seem to be a solution to this issue.
Mountain View High remains a pretty accepting campus because of the numerous teachers that have established this safe environment. The majority of the teachers are very accepting, and the kids really seem to like seeing our students in our classes and interacting with them. Diane plans to keep it this way. “If I’m walking behind a kid and he’s calling his friend retarded, I’ll stop those kids and I’ll educate them to why not to use that language” (Corbett). Inclusion may be the solution to help the interaction between kids with impairments and those without. Inclusion is the integration of special-ed students into high school classes. Students with disabilities will be enrolled into the same classes and have the same teachers as high school students. Diane believes that inclusion is a critical for special-ed students should be allowed to attend to both regular high school classes such as photography, dance, and other electives, while also attending individualized classes such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, courses that need a smaller classroom setting. According to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, “schools do not require inclusion. Instead, the law requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment appropriate” to meet their “unique needs” (Stout 1). Imagine schools without inclusion. We would be reversing the headway that we established today. Students may not even know who special-ed students are. If these students do, they will become apprehensive around students with special needs or even resort to bullying, the very act we want to prevent. There is still an invisible line between kids with disabilities and those without. Luckily, there are clubs such as Best Buddies that spend their lunch times interacting with these kids. Looking into the future, Diane hopes that her own child, Jackie, will live in a world where acceptance is the norm. Diane concludes, “[Colleges] don’t really teach classes on how to do this. When you get your credentials, they don’t really cover this stuff...” (Corbett)