Teacher’s Aide


*Author’s note: I work around a lot of retired Navy and Marine Corps F-18 pilots, and this story is based on something a retired colonel recently told me. He has a retired Marine friend who lives on Fleming Island in Florida who took a job as a teacher’s aide several years ago. He didn’t end up marrying her, but she did have serious mobility issues caused by complications during childbirth, and she deeply appreciated the many things he did for her.


“Chelsea? I think the best thing to do is ask the county to hire an aide. I know how independent you are, but when I watch you walk, I actually hurt for you,” the elementary school principal said.

“No, you’re right. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Just walking from my car to my classroom takes me five times as long as it used to. And going up that flight of stairs is…awful.”

“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t sure you were coming back until the day yesterday, and by then everyone’s rooms were set.”

“I understand. I’m not complaining, Diane. It’s just the way life is for me now,” the younger teacher explained.

“I also know you don’t want sympathy, but when I think about what happened, I…I have to tell you, Chelsea, I still cry.”

Chelsea Tanner was 28 and the mother of a two-year old boy named Bryce. Her son was the only good thing to come out of the events surrounding his birth, after which his mother nearly died.

After some 30 hours in labor, her attending physician told Chelsea it was necessary to perform a C-section. After a brief moment with her husband they agreed to the procedure. During it, the doctor somehow nicked her uterine artery without noticing it until after she was sewn up.

The doctor left the OR and minutes later her blood pressure began dropping. By the time the doctor was called back and had scrubbed in, her pressure was so low the hospital’s lawyers had been summoned. The doctor opened her back up, repaired the small tear, then re-closed the wound, angry at himself for having missed something so serious.

On advice from those attorneys and the hospital administrator, the doctor wasn’t allowed to speak to the family. Instead the lead attorney delivered a carefully-worded explanation to the family outlining what had happened without admitting culpability. They tersely informed her husband and her parents that Chelsea was unlikely to survive, and if she did, there would almost certainly be complications. They wouldn’t tell them what those complications might be, but everyone knew this was serious. Extremely serious.

After 48 very intense hours of waiting, hoping, and praying, Chelsea pulled through, but there was indeed damage. To everyone’s relief, there was, at least from the initial tests they’d run, no damage to the brain, and she was able to speak normally although there were concerns with her short-term memory.

It was another three days before she was strong enough to try and walk, and that’s when the most serious problem made itself known.

Chelsea’s ability to walk had been severely impaired. At first, she could barely take five steps with the aid of two nurses and a walker.

More tests were run, and Chelsea was provided physical therapy at no expense, most likely in the hopes she might not sue the hospital for that, too, and with time, she saw slow, gradual improvements.

The truth was she’d never given any thought to a lawsuit. Her primary concern was for Bryce, who was, by all accounts, perfectly healthy. Beyond that her focus was on learning to walk again with the ultimate goal of getting back to the thing she loved most—teaching.

All she’d ever wanted to be was a teacher, so when she enrolled in Florida State University, the only decision for her was whether to major in elementary or secondary education. That too, had been an easy decision as she truly loved young children, and her hope upon graduation was to be able to teach sixth graders.

Most of her peers wanted to teach anywhere from Kindergarten through third grade with most dreading being assigned to a classroom with older children. But not Chelsea. For her, that age was ideal as the students were old enough to begin to understand things like sarcasm but still young enough to be sweet and polite.

Now, almost two years later, neither she nor her doctors fully understand why she’d lost so much mobility, but she had finally gotten enough strength back in her legs that she could walk short distances with great effort. She felt strong enough to return to the classroom, and although her principal was very concerned about her ability to teach, she was determined to do everything she could to give her the opportunity. Her two main concerns were the issues Chelsea told her she had with short-term memory and mobility.

Walking was an essential part of the job as elementary school children had to be accompanied by a teacher, an aide, or other staff member everywhere they went on campus. At no time could they be allowed to go anywhere by themselves. Yes, a student could be sent to the nurse’s office kaynarca escort or to another room, but at least one other student had to go with them. But when they moved as a class, they could never, ever do so without a staff member accompanying them. So while Chelsea could indeed walk, she simply couldn’t go back and forth to the cafeteria and then to PE or music or the library, let alone up and own the stairs, day in and day out.

Walking was not only painful, Chelsea had no endurance. Never a runner or fitness nut, she’d never had issues walking any distance or doing anything most people could do. But that was no longer the case, and even short walks, like from her car to her room, wore her out. And that’s where the need for an aide came in.

Over the roughly two years since giving birth, Chelsea had also lost a serious amount of weight. She wasn’t a big woman to begin with, but she’d always joked about a small amount of what she called ‘tummy flab’ even before getting pregnant. She’d hovered around 130 pounds all of her adult life, and for a woman who was 5′ 6″ she was very much ‘height/weight proportionate’.

Now, however, she struggled to maintain 110 pounds, and found eating to be almost as big a chore as the physical therapy she still attended two days a week. The only redeeming feature she had left that hadn’t been decimated by the trauma was her face. While the rest of her body was rail thin, Chelsea still had a normal-looking face which was what people saw first, and the thing by which they decided whether or not someone that thin was possibly anorexic.

No one had ever thought Chelsea was beautiful beyond a kind of generic sense of the meaning in which a woman like her could be ‘beautiful’ for reasons other than having a gorgeous-looking face. She was by no means un-attractive, she just wasn’t someone who turned a lot of heads when she walked into a room. But her positive outlook and cheerful disposition made her someone most people who met her wanted to have as a friend.

She now often joked about how she’d always secretly dreamed of being a size 2. Now that she was, the reason she’d gotten there made her long to be a size 10 again.

“So what do you think? Today is the first day back for teachers and that gives us four more to find someone. I’ve already talked with the Superintendent and she’s willing to hire an aide, but we need to let her know because that money has to be taken from somewhere else.”

“I’d like to say give me a couple of days to think about it, but just walking from my room to the cafeteria for the welcome-back meeting left me exhausted. I still have to get back up to my classroom, and just the thought of it is overwhelming. There’s no way I could walk a class anywhere let alone to all the places they need to go each day.”

“Okay. Then I’ll call the county again and let them know we need someone,” the principal said. “In the meantime, is there anything at all I can do to help?”

Still upbeat, at least most of the time, Chelsea said, “Do you have a spare set of legs?”

Diane Pokorney, her principal, tried to smile as she said, “No. Sorry. Fresh out, I’m afraid.”

“Then I guess I better get going.”

Chelsea stood up, steadied herself with the ‘Hurry-cane’ that now accompanied her everywhere she went, then slowly turned herself around.

She smiled and thanked her principal then began the long, slow walk back to her building and the dreaded flight of stairs.


“So you gonna be subbing again this year, Dad?”

“No. No way. I’ve had enough of that. But it’s funny you asked me that right now because I literally just hung up with the county office not thirty minutes ago asking what else I could do.”

“What do you mean? You’ve got a masters degree. Can’t you pretty much do anything?”

His father chuckled then said, “No. I’d have to take one of the certification exams if I wanted to teach. And I’d have to be a teacher for some minimum number of years to be an administrator and take a bunch of other classes. I spent nearly 20 years of my life in formal classrooms so I’m pretty much done with that.”

“I guess I knew that. I just wasn’t really thinking about it,” his son replied. “So…what can you do? Other than subbing?”

“The woman I spoke with at the county office said she’d put my name in the ‘support pool’ which evidently is a term they use for people who um…support other people. And the ‘other people’ would be teachers.”

“Oh. So…you’d be an aide then?”

“Pretty much. There are other ‘support’ jobs like custodians and secretaries, but I can’t exactly see myself answering phones all day or pushing a broom.”

His son laughed then said, “Yeah. That’d be a sight. I can just see you swabbing decks.”

“Hold on there, junior,” his dad said. “I’m not too proud to do that, it just doesn’t hold any interest for me.”

“No, I get it. You always worked around the house doing any nasty job that had to be done, and as a retired colonel you sure as hell don’t need the money.”

“Yeah, küçükyalı escort it’s just mind-numbingly boring sitting around here by myself, you know? I don’t have any interest in being a government contractor for any amount of money, and I’m not the Home Depot type.”

His son laughed again then said, “You’d make a helluva Walmart greeter, Dad.”

‘Dad’ was 6′ 2″ and just under 200 pounds of what was still pretty much still rock-hard muscle. At 53, retired Marine Corps colonel Pete Harke (pronounced HAR-kee) was what most people thought of when someone said ‘Marine’.

He was considered a very good-looking guy for someone his age and had the typical, very masculine-looking square jaw and a nicely-tapered body that was in superb condition. He still wore his hair fairly close-cropped, although the temples were now graying and the gray area seemed to grow a little more every week. It was supposedly ‘distinguished’ on a man his age, but it just made him feel…old.

He and his late wife, Gayle, had retired to northeastern Florida five years ago after Pete completed his 26th year on active duty. He had no chance, and no interest, of becoming a general officer, and there was nothing new left for him to do, so he’d hung up his spurs and let his wife, who’d faithfully followed him around the country and the world, decide where to live in retirement.

She’d narrowed it down to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Jacksonville, Florida, and as the time arrived to make a final decision, Gayle hadn’t said a word. So, in his typically direct manner, Pete told her he’d decided where they should go.

“Oh, okay. Me, too,” she replied.

“Seriously? Great! I uh, I think we’re gonna love Charlotte,” he told her assuming it was a done deal.

“Charlotte? We’re not moving to Charlotte. We’re going to Florida,” Gayle informed him and that was that.

He’d initially hated the idea because it was so warm and humid there for so many months, but after living there for a year or so, he loved having Naval Air Station Jacksonville just 15 minutes north on Highway 17 from their very upscale home on Fleming Island. He was over there every day using the fitness center or the pool, and once a week or so buying groceries at the commissary.

While Gayle was still alive, he was thoroughly content to be a ‘house husband’ even thought their only child was in college, and let Gayle pursue her interests while he took care of everything she’d done so well and so willingly the entire time they’d been married.

Their son, Trevor, was himself now a Marine Corps officer, and getting close to finishing the next phase of flight school. He’d gotten ‘fixed wing’ after his initial training, and would be finding out which jet he’d be flying in a few more days. Or at least that’s what Trevor hoped, knowing full well that fixed-wing included C-130s and MV-22 Ospreys, both propeller-driven aircraft.

His dad loved to kid around by telling him he’d get C-130s, the Marine Corps’s four-engine refueler and cargo plane, but Trevor didn’t think that was funny in the least.

Pete laughed at the Walmart comment then said, “Yeah. I might not be too good at that, either.”

Trevor chuckled then did his ‘Dad’ imitation which normally came out as a growl.

“Welcome to Walmart. Here’s your fuckin’ cart. Have a wonderful day. Now—move!”

Pete laughed even though he rarely swore and raised his voice even less often. He learned early on officers didn’t yell, as there was no need to. And it was a whole lot better for everyone involved to simply say, “Could you take of such-and-such for me?” knowing it would be done immediately no matter how he requested it be accomplished.

“Anyway, this aide thing will give me the chance to see if I like bein’ around other people’s kids all day. If I do, who knows? Maybe I’ll take one of the teacher certification exams and give that a whirl.”

They shifted gears and discussed Trevor’s hopes and dreams of flying either the F-22 or the F-35 for a few minutes then talked about some other family stuff before they got ready to wrap up their weekly phone call.

“Call me as soon as you get your platform,” Pete told his son.

“Will do, Dad. And let me know if you get hired and what you’ll be doing.”

“Wilco,” his dad told him before hanging up.

He set the phone down, and when it rang just seconds later, he was sure Trevor had forgotten to tell him something.

He was glad he checked caller ID before answering it with something like, “What the f***, Lieutenant?”

It said ‘Clay County Schools’ so Pete slid the button to ‘Accept Call’ and quietly said hello.

“Mr. Hark?” the woman on the other end said, mispronouncing his name.

Rather than correct her, he politely said, “Yes.”

“Yes. Hi. Um…we spoke just an hour or so ago, and well, I have a support position that opened up a few minutes ago. You called to ask what else was available, and well, this literally just became available.”

“Oh. Okay. Wow. That was sancaktepe escort fast,” he said looking down at his watch.

She gave him the name of the school and the principal and told him to give her a call to set up an interview.

“An interview. As in…today?”

The woman laughed politely then said, “That depends. You should call today, but the interview won’t not be until she’s ready to see you.”

“Wow. There goes my golf game,” Pete said even though he didn’t play golf.

The woman asked if he had any other questions, and when he said he didn’t, she again encouraged her to call the school as soon as possible.

He’d tried substitute teaching the second half of the last school year, but in spite of his rather intimidating physical appearance, school-aged kids weren’t impressed. Anytime there was a substitute, nearly every class did its best to push the sub to his or her limits, and he’d gotten his fill in short order and stop accepting calls to fill in.

Even so, he was almost willing to sub again to avoid spending any more time alone than he had to. Since Gayle’s passing a little over a year and a half ago, his entire life seemed empty and almost meaningless.

Now, with no one to live for, and nothing to really do, this ‘aide thing’ might not be such a bad deal.

He sat down, looked at the number she’d given him, then decided, “What the hell. Why not?”

The school secretary patched him into the principal she told him was named Mrs. Pokorney. She, in turn, told Pete how happy she was he’d called her before explaining the situation.

“I have a young teacher who has serious mobility issues. I’m not at liberty to say any more, but I’m pretty sure she’ll have no problem telling you why once you get to know her. Anyway, you’d basically be her legs, although you’ll also be in the class with her nearly all the time. Since she teaches reading, you might be asked to read to the children or help them in small groups. Would this be something you’d consider doing?”

He didn’t need any time to think about and said, “Yes. That sounds perfect, actually.”

“Wonderful. Then let’s get you in here for an interview so she and I can meet you.”

The principal checked her calendar then proposed the following morning at 9am.

“That works. I’ll be there at nine,” Pete told her.

“Oh. I see here on your file you have a masters degree. Am I reading that correctly?” the principal asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said quietly. “That is true.”

“Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone work for me or even known of anyone with an advanced degree working as an aide. But as long as you’re happy doing so, I’ll be looking forward to having you on our team.”

Pete thanked her for the call then went to make sure he had a suit pressed and ready to wear, even though knew he did. In fact, he had two of them, but not checking wasn’t in his DNA so he went straight to the closet and selected not only the suit but the shirt, tie, shoes, and belt he’d be wearing with it.

With that settled he took a look around and wondered, “What now?”

He had a daily routine that helped him pass the time, and if this aide thing worked out, it would kill seven hours a day, five days a week. He’d be working six of those hours with a half hour for lunch plus commute time.

Financially, the pay was laughable. It was so low it made him shake his head. But if it kept him busy that would be great. If he actually got to know the kids and enjoyed being around them, that would be a huge bonus.

And yet, without Gayle, it all seemed like…well, the saying ‘vanity of vanities’ came to mind. It was all nothing but marking time. He wasn’t really living, he was really just existing. So far, no matter what he’d tried, Pete couldn’t find anything to give his life purpose again. So for now, at least, he rigidly clung to his regimented lifestyle and would give this a whirl and keep his fingers crossed. And with the passage of some more time, maybe one day he’d even want to meet someone else.

He looked at his watch, heaved a sigh, then with no other decisions on the horizon, asked himself again, “What now?”

Pete was up at 5am without the aid of an alarm. He hit the head, Marine speak for going to the bathroom, then sat down with a cup of coffee in the dead silence of his home. Once ‘the urge’ hit he’d take care of business then head outside while it was still ‘only’ 75 degrees and ungodly humid in early August, and go for a run before it got really hot.

He’d never been fast, but Pete Harke could run forever. He plodded along at about an 8:30-a-mile pace then turned around after he hit the three-mile mark and headed home.

Out of habit, he was mentally timing everything so he’d be ready to leave the house at 8:40 for the ten-minute drive to Fleming Island Elementary School leaving him time to find a parking spot and still be a couple of minutes early.

Once he was dressed, Pete tried to remember the last time he’d been in a suit, and a sick feeling washed over him when he realized it had been for Gayle’s funeral. Otherwise, it had been at least five years prior to that. At any rate, he took a quick look at himself, and once he was satisfied that was the best he could do, he grabbed his wallet and keys and headed to the garage.

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