The Summer Job
There was a full-time student assistant job available in South Bend about 5 miles from my house. Perfect! Before taxes I would be making $64 a week! (Minimum wage was $1.60/hour back then.) By the end of summer, I would be rolling in the dough!
So, I started working at the Northern Indiana Children’s Hospital in South Bend. The facility was originally built as a polio hospital for children but had morphed into a facility (aka Institution) for children who were developmentally disabled. A place where families had their children ‘placed’ and, in most cases, forgotten. And while it was referred to as a Children’s Hospital some of the ‘children’ had grown up and now were adults and considerably older than me.
During the summer that I arrived there was a not so quiet battle going on between the Nursing Department and the Education Department. Education believed that the residents could learn and needed to live in a more home-like setting within the hospital. Nursing believed that the patients needed to stay in metal cribs or hospital beds and continue a diet of gruel served 3 times a day. (A dollop of instant pudding on top for dinner!) Since I needed the cash, I stuck it out at the ‘war zone’ for the summer!
I learned a lot that summer about myself; realization of paths that life could have taken me; about society’s view of individuals who were disabled; and my future. I returned the next summer after turning down a job that paid significantly more an hour much to my parent’s dismay. The battles of the previous summer were now more of a cold war. The facility had a name change. It was now the Northern Indiana State Hospital and Developmental Disabilities Center. Some residents were even attending the nearby Logan Center!
And I went back for two more summers to work with the residents. I spent a lot of time teaching and reinforcing daily living skills. I attempted to give the individuals that I worked with dignity and life experiences that they deserved. I vividly remember riding a Ferris wheel with a young man who was in no way interested in the experience and wanted out. Luckily neither of us fell off the ride!
After teaching 6th grade for a year (an experience that a secondary education major/first year teacher could never be prepared for no matter how many courses one took) I returned to Purdue to get a Masters in Special Education. I would be able to bring some of the summer job experiences into the classroom. And as a part time job I worked as a teaching assistant a Wabash Center in Lafayette (a preschool center for children who were developmentally delayed). It was an interesting and exciting time for Special Education. PL94-142, now known as IDEA, had been enacted a couple years earlier. Parents were elated that their children would be educated in a school. No one cringed when the word ‘advocate’ was used!
In the fall of 1978, with my Masters in hand, I ended up accepting a teaching position with the Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative. My career with NISEC allowed me to work in life skills classrooms as well as in preschool. In the fall of 1999 I transferred into the field of Assistive Technology working part time as an AT Consultant for NISEC and part time Regional Coordinator for PATINS. During my career with NISEC, I advocated for teachers and children by serving as the Union President and served on the AFTIndiana Executive Board. After several years of juggling AT jobs, I became a full time PATINS employee.
Except for the one-year teaching 6th grade my career in education has been in the special education field spent working with individuals to improve their lives; to make sure they have access; to make sure they have dignity and respect; to make sure they can live and learn to the best of their abilities. And during those years I came to admire the dedication of teachers, administrators, related school personnel, and parents. That drive that everyone has to make sure every student, no matter what ability level, has a free appropriate education has been so energizing!
So what started out as a summer job in 1972 has turned into a 46-year career working with individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. But all good things must come to an end. I will be retiring at the end of this school year and that career will formally come to an end. It is a career that I have honestly enjoyed every day! What started off as a summer job turned into a profession.
How I spend those retirement years is uncertain. But it will be difficult for sure to give up the passion that has ignited me for the past 46 years! Who knows I might be one of those folks who shows up as a walk-in at a PATINS event!!!!!! One thing for sure…the alarm clock will be turned off!!!!!!!!
Congratulations on your retirement Jim! I enjoyed reading your life story. I am just a few years behind you as I started college in 1974. I am also retiring this spring after 39+ years in the "Visually Handicapped" (as it was called when I started) field.
Thanks for sharing this story with us, Jim. The 'good things' you have done over those 46 years have not come to an end. Just think how many seeds you planted in students and teachers and accessibility AHH HA moments you provided for those students and teachers that will benefit them and generations to follow. Job well done, my friend. It has been a pleasure for me to work with you for the past 15 years. Enjoy no alarm clock for all it is worth.
All of us troublemakers (LOL) here at KASEC in Kokomo will miss you at all the PATINS events, but we wish you the best and enjoy your retirement!
Your friends at KASEC!