Ken Rensink (KR): I was paralyzed from the waist down. My left arm was so weak–I could barely hold a plastic cup of water. And they said, ”If you work really hard, we think you can rehab in nine months.” I did it in five weeks.
Laurel Hill-Ward (LHW): Do you think because of your perseverance and subsequent success, sometimes you’re tougher on your students than some high school special ed teachers?
KR: I think so, yes, but by the time they get to me in high school many of these kids, they’ve been told for so many years that they’re failures. I am trying to help create folks who will not get rolled by life, but will roll over life. Or in my case roll through life. I had a really difficult student one time. I was working him hard, he was a senior, and it was getting close to graduation. And one morning before school, I passed him in the hallway, and I could smell alcohol on his breath. I’m supposed to turn students in, however, I know if I do that this kid’s going to be suspended. I knew where he was academically, and this could very well be the straw that breaks his academic camel’s back. And I thought, Well, school doesn’t start till 8 o’clock, and this is a little before 8. So I said, ”Look, if you stay here on campus, I or another teacher are going to have to turn you in. Go home. And don’t ever do it again.”
The years rolled on and just, uh, maybe two years ago, I was out in front of the school and a big old white truck pulls up. And he comes up to me and shakes my hand, and I said, ”I’m sure glad I didn’t turn you in.” He said, ”I never did thank you for that did I Mr. R?” I said, ”Actually, you did.” And he looked at me funny and he goes, ”How do you mean?” I said, ”You’re driving a big white truck, you got a job, you did pay me back.”
LHW: You are truly one of the best special ed teachers I have ever known, Ken.
KR: Well, I should have died at age 19. So, everyday is precious. Use them well.