Joyce Jackson, of Marion, now retired, spent more than 50 years helping children and adults learn.
She taught in northern Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and taught English as a second language in China. Most of those years were spent teaching junior high school special education in Kansas City.
One reason she ended up working with students who were having a hard time is that she was one of them herself.
“In elementary school, I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office,” she said.
She had learned to read early and had no use for the books being used in the classroom, like “Dick and Jane.”
In the principal’s office, she could read books more to her taste.
“I decided I was going to be teaching ‘problem kids,’” she said.
In her Kansas City special education classroom, students didn’t come to school prepared with notebooks, pencils and pens, and the like. Many students were simply too poor to afford school supplies.
“Initially the kids would show up with absolutely nothing,” Jackson said. “The majority of the special ed kids were low income.”
In 1958, she logged what she was spending to supply basic school supplies for her students. At the end of the school year, she’d spent $50 per month on her students’ needs. Adjusted for inflation, $50 in 1958 would equal $416 in 2016.
Eventually, school custodians became aware she was buying supplies and began salvaging what they could for Jackson’s students. They’d save things like pencils and pens they found on the floor and bring blank paper from discarded notebooks.
“I’ve had a variety of kids who had individual needs,” she said.
She herself was provided with chalk and a chalkboard eraser to teach.
Jackson said that during her years in special education, there were not reliable tests to evaluate whether a struggling student was developmentally disabled or if the student was actually gifted.
For special education students, she focused on teaching them things they’d need to be successful working.
“I got to see one of my students in a special class actually able to get a job under civil service regulations that did not require a written test at that time,” she said. “We had some things like ‘come back to work after the break.’ One of the problems was she really couldn’t read a clock.”
When the student retired from her government job, before Jackson retired from teaching, she was supervisor of 30 employees.
“It was so great to see her come back to me looking good and doing well,” she said.
Unlike modern mainstreaming of disabled students with typical students, schools didn’t integrate students when she was teaching.
“It was my job as classroom teacher to help them learn as much as they could about doing a job,” she said.
By the time they graduated, 96 percent of her students were gainfully employed.
“Now we are so obsessed with this idea that the students have to be in regular classes,” Jackson said.
Lessons she learned and applied as a teacher are still good guides for parents raising children with special needs, and for teachers.
“Tell kids you love them but sometimes you don’t love what they are doing,” Jackson said. “I think you’ve got to make sure, not that you’re always positive about everything, but everyone needs to have something that is good out of every day.”
It is difficult for a child to face school days with consistent failure.
“You’ve got to preserve the dignity and the self-confidence of that kid,” Jackson said. “They’ve got to be able to shine at something.”