Judith E. Heumann may no longer be in front of a classroom, but she still considers herself a teacher.
During a House hearing this month on the nation's main special education law, the Department of Education's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services reminisced about her days teaching special education and 2nd grade in New York.
Ms. Heumann, who had polio as an infant and uses a wheelchair, told the House panel that despite being certified to teach regular elementary school classes, she was told in the 1960s that she could only teach special education because of her disability.
Ms. Heumann, 49, also spoke of her experience as a student in the New York City school system.
Because of her wheelchair, school officials would not allow her to attend school and provided her with only 2« hours of tutoring each week. After her parents persisted, she was allowed to attend 4th grade, but was placed in a special education class in the school's basement.
"The message from the school was, 'Disabled people are not valued as people, and certainly not as students,'" she said.
Eventually, Ms. Heumann became the first person in her class to attend high school.
Beyond the personal testimony, the panel vigorously questioned Ms. Heumann on some controversial aspects of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. After the onslaught of questions, Frank Riggs, R-Calif., asked, "Would you rather be teaching today?"
Ms. Heumann retorted, "I am teaching today," receiving applause from the standing-room-only crowd.
The U.S. Postal Service this week salutes teaching with 10 million 32-cent stamps that picture an adult and child reading together. The new stamp bears the slogan, "Helping Children Learn."
The launch of the stamp, which was scheduled to be issued Feb. 18, coincides with the 100th anniversary of the National PTA.
The PTA got its own stamp in 1972, on its 75th anniversary, back when first-class postage was 8 cents.
Christopher Van Allsburg, a noted children's book artist, designed the stamp. He said the design recalls English railway posters of the 1920s.
--JOETTA L. SACK & LONNIE HARP