Times Free Press
Free Press Archives
PAIN CAN BE A MOTIVATOR
Sometimes we can use our own pain to correct what we see as great
injustices in life. I recall one time when I did this.
I started my teaching career at North City School in Athens, Tennessee.
When they had enough students for two classes, they separated them by
test scores into “slows” and “advanced.”
I was a new teacher so I guess that’s why they gave me the “advanced”
that first year. Those forty kids were such a pleasure to teach. I
looked forward every morning to going to work. I breezed through that
year and still remember it as one of the most productive years of my
The second year I got the “slows.” It was one of the most difficult
years of my life. It drove me mad to realize I could not teach some of
those wonderful kids. I dreaded going to work and developed an ulcer.
Let me give you two illustrations. One boy who could not read or write
was a great artist. I did not realize at the time that he probably had
damage to the area of his brain that dealt with words. The part of his
brain that dealt with artistic symbols functioned beautifully.
Another fun-loving boy who remained my friend for many years was too
hyperactive to learn anything but years later I discovered he was
successful as a drummer in several bands. What could be better than
drumming for a hyperactive kid? At times I have had the thought that our
handicaps can dictate our life work.
No bachelor degree teacher is equipped to deal with all the educational
challenges I faced that year. I was so deeply disappointed at my
inability to teach some of those kids that I started driving to UTK to
take master’s level classes, finally managing to keep from starving long
enough to get a MS in special education.
It was the pain and frustration in that classroom that drove me to get
that master’s degree. I think subconsciously I was paying back those
kids I felt I had failed for a year of our lives.
What a dear blessing those kids were to me! They motivated me to become
a better person and a better teacher.
Later I became supervisor of special education in the Chattanooga
Schools and started the first class in a public school in Tennessee for
deaf and hard-of-hearing students (they had always had to go to the
state school) and the first class in the south for kids with perceptual
problems like the Athens boy who was sensational in art but couldn’t
read. We sent a teacher to Syracuse for special training. There were 8
kids in that first class and at the end of one school year, all of them
could read and several non-readers were reading at grade level. When
parents thanked me I said, “Thank the second class I taught who
motivated me to learn how to do this.”
Maybe there is such a thing as pointless pain, or pain we cannot process
into a plan for improving life for ourselves and others, but when we can
find ways to use it purposefully, it sure feels good to us and opens
doors for others.
This material should be treated as copyrighted by the
Chattanooga Times Free Press and the author. It should not be reproduced
commercially without permission.
Click here to order your own copy of
Long John Cardinal--and the
Best of Dalton Roberts
only $4.95 with no charge for shipping and handling.