A Richmond Teacher Recounts the Moment His Nonverbal Student Finally Spoke to Him

Unsplash/Aaron Burden

By Amie Knowles

June 26, 2023

“When I heard him speak for the first time, I got excited because I thought this young man had an epiphany.”

You’re now entering the classroom of Darrell Turner.

He’s a preschool inclusion teacher for Richmond Public Schools, as well as the vice president of the Richmond Education Association

The University of Richmond graduate describes himself as a “life-long learner” and writes on LinkedIn that he’s “always looking for a new challenge.” Well, there’s a challenge at his school—and he recently talked about the issue at a Freedom Virginia press conference. The event—equipped with a large, mobile, electronic billboard that promotes budget choices ​​making investments in Virginia communities—is part of an effort to urge state lawmakers to increase funding for Virginia schools.

The teacher noted that the commonwealth’s public schools are underfunded and understaffed (you can read more about Virginia ranking 41st in the nation on per-pupil spending here, or about Virginia teacher shortages here). 

“I can tell you, as a teacher in the inner city, I have worked in many schools where many times we’re going in our own pockets to provide resources for our children,” Turner said. “Sometimes our buildings are falling apart.”

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Turner spoke about an incident involving the condition of a school. He taught a nonverbal student, and one day during nap time, the child had something to tell Turner. 

“Now, as a teacher that works with students with special needs, when I heard him speak for the first time, I got excited because I thought this young man had an epiphany,” Turner said.

Sadly, the boy’s words weren’t what the teacher expected.

“He was speaking because he was scared,” Turner said. “[T]he reason why he was frightened was because a mouse ran over his nap mat and woke him up.”

The teacher emphasized that his working conditions are children’s learning conditions. 

“Situations like this, and also having ceiling tiles that are falling apart and mold on our ceilings, are one of the reasons why we need this $1 billion investment,” Turner said.

The $1 billion mark is a point of contention in the commonwealth’s ongoing budget negotiations. While the Virginia Senate—led by a Democratic majority—proposed a plan to increase funding for Virginia public schools with the money, the Republican-led Virginia House of Representatives budget called for $1 billion in tax cuts.

“Let’s be very clear: this should not be a difficult decision,” Turner said. 

There’s still time to contact your Virginia lawmakers. Let them know how you feel about the budget situation, and the funding priorities that align with your values, by contacting Virginia delegates here and Virginia Senators here.


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  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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