For over forty years, she saw difficult students come through her elementary Special Education classroom doors in Mt Vernon, a northern suburb of New York City. Mrs. Jones became known as an outspoken educator who trains emotionally needy, behaviorally challenged kids. Many of them went on to become surprisingly well-adjusted citizens as adults, but when Mrs. Jones took them on they were a “handful”, as she was accustomed to describing them. Once she had a child who would assigned for him to disrupting by breaking his assigned seating desks. As Jones described, “He would lock his big feet on both sides and rear-back until the furniture came apart. He could have injured other children in the class, so I had to put a stop to it. I was a control freak.”
Her experience began as a teacher of handicapped and blind children and those years in the school wing of a mental hospital in Queens, New York honed her for the day that the principal at Garden school was trying to place for Eli, a particularly energetic and mischievously troublesome boy who had “sparkling eyes”, as Mrs. Jones would later describe them. The secretary in the main office suggested,” I bet Mrs. Jones could handle him!” So when the principal presented this new assignment of adding Eli to her class by saying, “I know Eli will be a challenge for you, but I think you are up to it…” Mrs. Jones replied, “A challenge to me? NO, I will be a challenge to him! Bring him on!”
Eli was a foster child in a group home who, when confined to his room as punishment in because of his many mischievous acts, would escape by climbing out of the window using the cord of one of the electric lamps! He was also a petty thief, as were several of the Special Education children, preying upon the teachers, of all people, whenever they got a chance they would rifle the desk and try to steal their purse! One particular time, Mr. Jones caught Eli just about to reach his hand into the drawer as she returned from the hallway. “Alright now”, she admonished, “You’re going to have to come over and meet the ‘Board of Education paddle’…” Back in those days, a teacher could, with intelligent restraint, use a bit of corporal punishment, usually with the yard stick ruler. Eli submitted to three whacks on his thieving hand from Jones and that was that – he never tried it again. She recalls the time that she brought her daughter to school with her and let her read to the class. This apparently fascinated Eli, as he watched and listened intently, looking up at her daughter and then back down to his book back and forth. “I gonna learn to read like that”, Eli said in his gruffy little voice.
George was also part of Eli’s class and that year, Mrs. Jones gave a February lesson about the first U.S. President, George Washington, which included the famous “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree incident. This must have made such an impression on George that he decided to act it out in reality. So he went home, found a hatchet and proceeded to hack down a neighbor’s scrawny tree. I’m not sure if it was a fruit tree, but the neighbor was not too happy about it and called the police who took the hatchet away after George enthusiastically admitted that he did it! What else could they do (again, this was back in the 1970s when knee-jerk overkill punishment was not the rule as it is often these days).
Years later, Mrs. Jones and her husband were shopping in downtown Manhattan, New York City when a well-dressed young man in a black sharkskin suit and fedora hat walking on the sidewalk ahead of them suddenly turned around and said, “You’re Mrs. Jones! I didn’t know that I could see you here! Do you know who I am?”
“Yes of course, you’re Eli!”, Mrs. Jones replied, extremely proud of how well her former charge spoke and looked. She introduced Eli to her husband, and he was nothing short of polite as he shook Mr. Jones’s hand before they went their ways after brief pleasant conversation and a couple of hugs.
I am particularly proud of Mrs. Jones and happily authored this piece about her because Mrs. Jones is now a retired eighty-eight year old lady – and my Mum.