Teacher Pepper Sprays Special Needs Student

Jeanne Sager

pepper sprayWhen do you cheer the news that a Georgia teacher pepper sprayed a teenager with special needs? When it's followed by an announcement that the teacher, Barbara Neeley, resigned. This is what America needs more of! Teachers who screw up and don't try to find a way to excuse it.

She was wrong, no doubt about it. But something obviously snapped here, and a woman who sits there and tries to rationalize this kind of behavior is beyond help.

Because, folks? Let's be honest. There is almost never a reason to pepper spray a child. But there is really NEVER a good enough reason to pepper spray a child who suffers from mild retardation, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. And yet, sadly, it happens.

In this Georgia case, Neeley ostensibly told two teen boys in her classroom at a special needs school to sit down. One did. One didn't. So cops say she whipped out the pepper spray. Like the teacher accused recently of forcing a boy with autism to beat himself up because she was angry with him disrupting her class, it's clear this teacher either didn't have a clue how to deal with her student's special circumstances or didn't care. But she's worked at this school since 1998. It's hard to fathom the former, and even more disturbing to contemplate the latter.

This is, in a nutshell, why good teachers are so vital, especially in a special needs classroom. Working at this kind of job takes a certain kind of person. Kids are a tough lot. Kids with special needs are even tougher. Not because they aren't just as lovable -- know a parent with a special needs kid, she can give you wonderful, heartwarming stories! But because of what their care entails.

It can be the most rewarding job on the planet, or, for the wrong person, the worst job ever. It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking. And in many ways it's more vital that a good teacher end up in a special needs classroom than a "regular" classroom, because these are the kids who can't defend themselves, who depend on the honesty and goodness of the adults who surround them. 

So what's the answer? Sending teachers for more education? Weeding out the "bad eggs" earlier on in the hiring process? Yes, and yes. But maybe it's also rotating teachers out, giving them a break from the heartbreaking side of it before they get to a breaking point and do something inexcusably wrong. Ask a parent with a special needs child what you can do to help her, and I bet she'll say just one day to run out and go to the store when she won't be stared at because her kid is stimming would be a godsend. So why not teachers too?

Do you know a teacher who works with kids with special needs? Do me a favor; go give her a GIANT hug today.


Image via wstryder/Flickr

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