Torey Hayden, Teaching With Words: Ordinary People Living Extraordinary Lives


                             Teaching With Words

                                   By Cleo Lampos

            Narrative nonfiction is a writing style that makes true events read like a novel. Is it any wonder that when Torey Hayden submitted her manuscript for One Child that the publisher snatched it up and put her under contract? Using narrative nonfiction, Torey gives the reader glimpses into the teaching process as applied to severely emotionally disturbed children. Books that portray a world where very bad things happen to children, but also a world where there are good people who want to make things better. How did such an author emerge from the chalkboard walls of education?

           Victoria, as she was known as a child, had an epiphany in 1959 at age 8. She had been writing words and sentences in her home inLivingston,Montanasince her hands could grasp a pencil. So when the idea for a story about a dog sparked her creativity,Victoriachose to create a stirring tale rather than fill in the blanks of her reading workbook.  Her teacher diligently removed the distracting paper and sentVictoriaback to applying her efforts to her seatwork. Two weeks later, the teacher returned the manuscript toVictoria. As she sat on the steps ofWinan School,Victoriaexperienced the first “ah-ha” moment of her life. She realized as she read the sentenced written by her own hand a fortnight before that the same emotions that pushed her pencil from word to word still squeezed her heart with feeling. The power of the written word proved real to a little girl.

            During her teen years,Victoriagrew into her nickname of Torey. After high school graduation, she decided to attend Montana State University-Billings where she majored in biology. Her lifetime interest in archeology started early and expected to make a career of it. As a freshman, she received an opportunity to teach in the new field of special education as an aide in a program for disadvantaged children. The chance for the job happened by accident, but Torey’s love of the challenge of working with seriously disturbed children overwhelmed her. She credits Roy Aichele inWalla Walla,Washingtonfor introducing her to the world of special education and encouraging her to develop her teaching skills by the freedom he gave to her within the classroom setting. Changing from a biology major to education defined her destiny.

            A Masters in Special Education in 1973 from Montana State University in Billings was followed by PhD studies in educational psychology from the University of Minnesota,Minneapolis. Several classroom assignments exposed Torey to the process centered/counseling method of teaching which eventually became her trademark style .But the combination of teacher and author started as a means of personal therapy and reflection as Torey wrote daily logs on the students in her classroom,

            Special education classes in the 1970’s were housed in any spare office, basement or oversized closet in the school. Resources for the children depended on the creativity of the teacher who may have an aide for the eight children of varying ages and handicapping conditions assigned to her. During that era, Torey acquired a class of severely disturbed children that struggled to master the basics of the curriculum in spite of constant annoying or disrupting behaviors. Then, the new student, Shelia, enrolled. An abused child, at age six she tied a three year old to a tree and critically burned him. Every day presented new obstacles for Torey with the violent but silent outbursts from Shelia who ripped up all worksheets and refused to write anything. Torey began logging these behaviors to document Shelia’s state of mind as the child waited to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Eventually, Torey and Sheilia developed a connection that transcended the teacher-student bond. With unconditional love, Torey broke through Shelia’s wall of pain and exposed her brilliant mind that had been trapped by the abuse she suffered. From her notes, Torey wrote One Child, a book that chronicled her struggles to release an emotionally disturbed child from her past.

            As a teacher turned author, Torey introduced narrative nonfiction. This genre of writing let college students walk into her classroom and see the students with Torey’s eyes. They felt her pain when curses assailed her ears. They grew to care for children who reacted violently to compassion. Before they took on their student teaching assignment, because of Torey’s words, they learned to walk the thin balance beam between coddling and encouraging a youngster. Through Torey’s trial and error, they chose to be process oriented rather than goal oriented. These fledgling educators read the words of a counselor written by an exhausted teacher of severely disturbed children. The new generation of teachers vowed to never teach the way they had been taught.

             With special education still in its infancy, young graduates soaked up Torey’s eight books of teacher lore as role models of how to treat challenging students. As Torey recorded her work with elective mutes, it pioneered treatment plans that succeeded in releasing the mute’s words. The daily experiences described on the pages of her books translated into a philosophy of teaching based on personal relationships and emotional connections between teacher and student. With her words, Torey has inspired a generation of educators. Their commitment to use compassion to remediate emotionally disturbed students has created countless special education classrooms as safe havens filled with the heartfelt concern of the teacher.

            Torey Hayden would be proud of their efforts.


                                                In Other Words


“These children (selective mutes) are ignored because, let’s face it, they aren’t causing anyone trouble. They are literally left alone and forgotten about.”

            Lindsey Bergman, Psychologist, associate director of UCLA child and adolescent OCD and anxiety disorders program


“If kids come to teachers from strong, healthy, functioning homes, it makes our job easier. If they do NOT come from strong, healthy, functioning homes, it makes our job more important.”

            Barbara Colorose


“As I read each of Torey Hayden’s books, my desire to be a special education teacher grew intensely. Her perseverance with even the most difficult student inspired me to dig deeper into my creativity and resolve when confronted with challenging classrooms.”

            Cleo Lampos, M.Ed. Teacher, author of Teaching Diamonds in the Tough

“I had always been a maverick among my colleagues. I belonged to the better-to-have loved-and-lost school which was not a popular notion in education. The courses, theprofessionals, all preached against getting involved. Well, I could not do that, I couldnot teach effectively without getting involved, and in my heart, because I did belong tothe love-and-lost school, when the end came I could leave. It always hurt, and the moreI loved a child, the more it hurt. But when the time came that we had to part or I had tohonestly give up on the child because I could do no more, I could go. I could do itbecause I took with me, every time, the priceless memories of what we had, believingthat there is no more one can give another than good memories”.

            Torey Hayden (One Child, 1980, .p.204)


“”Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul”.

            Dave Pelzer, author, speaker, and child advocate


Torey Hayden is one of the teachers who inspired me to join the ranks of special education. She has been an inspiration.  

 Cleo Lampos, author of Teaching Diamonds in the Tough, (2012-Lighthouse of the Carolinas)














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