Liane Shaw’s memoir grabbed my attention because it’s about teaching emotionally/behaviorally disturbed children, a job she fell into almost by accident. Before becoming the YA author she is today, Liane Shaw was a special-ed teacher, but Time Out tells the story of how she ended up teaching in a classroom with a handful of elementary-school boys who were such serious behavior problems that they couldn’t fit into any other program in the school system. There was no structured programming in that school system at that time designed to meet these kids’ needs, and Shaw had no training specific to their problems, but she found herself drafted into the job simply because there was no-one else to do it — and because she learned to care about these kids.
This memoir is reminiscent, in some ways, of the Tori Hayden and Mary MacCracken books about teaching severely disturbed kids which I used to read when I was in my late teens and early 20s. However, while this book shares the gritty reality of teaching these types of kids that books like One Child and Lovey, there’s much more of a sense here of a teacher who is really just figuring it out as she goes along and wondering if she’s making any positive difference at all in these boys’ lives. In other words, there are no heartwarming miracles here. That’s not to say that the book won’t warm your heart — it will. But rather than a single moving story with a hopeful ending there’s a tangled ball of stories with a variety of endings and, in the saddest cases, no ending at all — because teachers sometimes lose touch with students, and never find out how things worked out for them.
I was interested in this story because although I’m not a special-ed teacher, some of the adult learners I work with are the same kids who were the unsolvable behavioral problems in elementary school. By high school, most of those kids have dropped out of the system; those who manage to get things together enough to come back to school eventually often do it through adult-ed programs like the one I teach in. So I was intrigued to get the teacher’s-eye-view of what their early lives might have been like.
A huge piece of my philosophy in working with young people is to remember that I can’t be the magical teacher who fixes everything for them and makes their lives OK. I can be one positive person, who person who helped and encouraged them, along with other helpers — often set against a large pile of people who were negative influences or discouraged them. To bring one good thing into the lives of the people I work with is my goal — and I felt in reading this book that that was what Liane Shaw learned too in working with these very challenging kids. You can’t do everything, and if you try to, you’ll make yourself crazy. But you can do something.