However, to work with such students for an entire 33-year education career and grow to love each one for his special abilities rather than disabilities, takes a person of limitless patience, boundless understanding and energy plus a unique desire to see these youngsters succeed in life despite their disability.
That philosophy has been the foundation of Mae Fleming’s teaching career with special needs youngsters since she began her education career as a para-professional 33 years ago at Edmonds Elementary School.
However, though she retired this year from the Clayton County Public School System, the desire to help these youngsters remains.
“Now that I am retired, I am looking for volunteer opportunities where I can help, on a part time basis, children with disabilities,” she said.
“I firmly believe every child has the ability to learn and every day during my career, I worked with teachers dedicated to emphasizing what a child can do rather than what his physical or mental condition might prevent him from doing,” Fleming added.
“Each day working with these teachers was memorable in regard to what they and their students, working together, were able to accomplish, which was truly inspiring to me,” she added.
After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1976, she began her career as a Para professional at Edmonds Elementary school where she remained until 1979.
While at Edmonds, she attended what was then Clayton State College but transferred to West Georgia College where she graduated in 1981 with an education degree.
“I graduated from West Georgia on a Sunday and started work the next day working with special needs youngsters again at Edmonds, where I taught moderate, severe and profound special needs youngsters,’ she said.
She taught at Edmonds until the Clayton school system opened up a new special needs student facility at Kemp Elementary School and she transferred there in 1990.
After eight years at Kemp, the Clayton school system built River’s Edge Elementary School, which was the first fully accessible special needs student facility.
She transferred to River’s Edge where she remained until 2000 when she transferred to the Henry County School System at McDonough Primary School. After only one year there, she returned to Clayton County Public Schools where she was assigned to Hawthorne Elementary where she stayed two years before becoming a pre-school special education teacher at Harper Elementary School before retiring this year.
Fleming said she loves language, especially in helping special needs children “find their voice” as she termed it, and be able to communicate.
“That process goes from a sound to a word and then to a group of words,” she said. “For a special needs child to master that process represents a real high, not only for the child but his parents as well.”
Fleming enjoys teaching things to special needs students that others take for granted, like walking, speaking and even learning to feed themselves.
“When a special needs child accomplishes these tasks, he begins to have a life, and it is a treasure to behold,” she said.