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Reflections On Leah Walsh


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Special education teacher Leah Walsh was strangled and her body left next to the Long Island Expressway in October 2008.

It is almost a year that our lives were turned upside down by Leah Hirschel Walsh’s death.  The teachers and children have set up a memorial plaque and bench for Leah outside of our school building.  We will have a short memorial service to reflect on the passage of time and her loss to all of us.


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Most people spend very little time thinking about the educators who taught them during childhood.  Although elementary school is so important in establishing an educational direction for life, it is usually minimalized by the college experience.  I also think that our elementary school teachers need to be recognized and acknowledged for the lessons that they taught us.  How many times have you stopped to think about any of your teachers from 1st, 3rd or 5th grades?  Go back and consider all of the things that you learned in elementary school: reading, writing, speaking and studying.  Do you use any of these skills in your life today?  Absolutely.  There is not a thing that you do in your adult life that you cannot trace back to those elementary school years.  I remember the penmanship letters that appeared all along the classroom walls – upper and lower cases.  I remember the classroom rules about not calling out and being respectful and waiting patiently for a turn to participate.  I remember a 3rd grade teacher telling my class, “Always be respectful to those around you, particularly those who are older, since they have the most to teach you.”

So, if teachers are important to typical children, can you imagine how important they are to children with disabilities?  Special education teachers do not just teach reading, they struggle with their students to learn about every aspect in life from dressing to eating to socializing.  They practice and rehearse new skills day in and day out.  They are patient, creative, and dedicated.  Teaching in a special education class requires much more work on the part of the teacher in terms of preparation and instruction.  Children learn more slowly because they require more time on task.  Progress may be difficult but there are many smiles and hugs for lessons that are finally learned.  Every effort from a child with special needs is an accomplishment.

So after a year, is Leah still here?  She is.  Leah’s spirit is here and it will always be here because her students are here.  Special education was her mission and her passion.  Special education teachers stay with their students and they stay with their programs.  It is very difficult to replace a good teacher, particularly in the lives of her students and their families.  Go back and think about your elementary school teachers.  It is quite meaningful to reflect on all of the early lessons that provide the underpinnings to who we are and what we are doing as adults.  Leah gave everything to her students, and they greatly benefited from who she was and what she represented – a wonderful teacher.  Not even a pearl is more valuable than that!

Dr. Ellenmorris Tiegerman is the Founder and Executive Director of the School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD) in Glen Cove and Professor Emeritus at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychology Studies at Adelphi University. She can be reached at 516-609-2000 and www.slcd.org.

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