Tomorrow is the moment of truth. In the 6 years I’ve been here, this will be the biggest test of my abilities in dealing with parents and tense situations. I have headed off many other disasters. Will I be able to deal with this one? We will see.
Given the stresses of dealing with involved and sometimes difficult parents, the possibility of being regularly assaulted (I gat scratched to the point of bleeding many times) and even getting sue, why do I do it? Why am I sticking my head into the jaws of the lion? Why do I keep at it with the intensity that I do? There’s obviously a lot of pressure and stress in dealing with aggressive kids alongside of sometimes medical fragile ones.
Honestly, flying high without a net has some appeal. Some people skydive and rock climb. I teach students with severe disabilities. Just as every cliff face is different for a rock climber, so is every student different. I think every teacher can attest to that. But these kids are on the extreme. I could do little or nothing, like Mr. Pyle, or do the minimum required. But where’s the challenge and thrill in that? No, there is so much to do. I go amongst them and there is no shortage of tasks to be performed, both physical and mental. It challenges on every single level.
Regular education and other Sp. Ed. teachers are primarily concerned with helping their students acquire greater cognitive skills. Getting their kids to think and behave as increasingly mature and responsible people. This is a challenging enough task, in itself. Now imagine doing this in addition to motor skills (fine and gross), leisure skills and self help skills such as feeding and using the bathroom. In a room with eight students, only 2 are able to use the bathroom fairly independently. Meaning they don’t wear diapers. They still can’t button or snap their pants independently. The rest are all in diapers. There is a lot of lifting involved. Remember, these are high school students! Even the smallest one is pretty heavy. And they can be strong, so they often don’t cooperate when being changed or fed.
If I don’t feel like working on cognitive skills, there are stretching exercises, walking exercises, getting them to sit up or just stand up. Transferring from one chair to another. All of these are physical tasks. If it is above 50°, I don’t bother with a long sleeved shirt, because I can get warm enough just with the work we do.
It is challenging. Rewards? Well, I do think I get paid well enough although I can always use more. But occasionally there is a small breakthrough and that is satisfying. A kid finally begins to communicate more or learns to play with a peer. These are small but significant things. Probably I get the biggest strokes from the parents, who are appreciative of what we do. Also colleagues, giants in their own right, who marvel at what we do. But yes, I think I’m good at what I do. I feel competent and confident here.
This is probably why this business with tomorrow’s IEP is so irksome. My competence is being called into question. Maybe I need to be taken down a notch.
I think that we educators can get too caught up in all the negativity surrounding our business. NCLB, being Highly Qualified, AYP, school choice and school vouchers…these are all fine issues for debate. But on a day-to-day basis, these issues are navel gazing. Yes they affect us all. But when you close the door to your classroom, you are still the captain of that ship. We all have to jump through more and more hoops, endure more criticism and abuse from parents, students, administrators, politicians and the general public. There are so many insanities in educational institutions at all levels. I’m all for realism.
But there is room for optimism. Everyday we have the chance to make a difference, however small. Teachers do it all day long in ways that they are not even aware of. By and large, local communities do support their teachers. At least in the recognition that it is a very honorable and noble profession. It’s because we really are a cut above. Who do you think you neighbors trust more? School teachers or politicians? Constantly acting like victims will not get us more respect. Acting like the responsible and dutiful public servants that we are will. Holding our heads down will not have the same impact as holding them high. We ARE professionals and we have important jobs to do. We are not irrelevant. We are on the frontlines in the war against ignorance. Stay strong and keep the faith.