Parking it in Special Ed.

12 Apr


One of the recurring themes in educational reform has been to allow anyone who has a degree and the desire come in and teach.  Let mid career professionals come in and teach, without wasting time with bothersome educational courses and meeting licensing requirements.  Why not let engineers teach math, and chemical engineers teach chemistry?  Why not let some former NASA engineers teach physics?  As if there was a long line of these folks storming county personnel offices.


Maybe teaching isn’t worthy of being a profession.  Maybe it’s true: those who can’t do, teach.  Does training really matter in the education profession?  Shouldn’t anyone with a certain level of content knowledge be able to do the job?


These are ideas are being put to the test every day, and no where are they being tested more than in the area of special education.  There is such a severe shortage of special educators nation wide, that systems are desperately pulling in people off the street with almost any sort of degree to teach exceptional students.  And this has certainly been the case with students with severe disabilities.  I mean, how much content knowledge is necessary to deal with people with an I.Q. of less than 40? 


Before going any further, go ahead and read Janet’s entry in The Art of Getting By.  This was submitted for the Carnival of Education at The Magic School Bus.


Janet parked her bus in special education for a year, while working on her Master’s of Education in another field.  Janet is one of droves and hoards of people who have been doing the same thing.  They are looking for a job to tide them over until they can either find something in their field or get their advanced degree.  They may want to teach, but not with these kids!  The main part of Janet’s entry deals with electric shock as a treatment for individuals with severe behavior problems.  I agree that this is considered inhumane and unethical in today’s modern world.


But then she3 goes on to describe her experience in special education, where she administered various other types of intervention.  Some were better than others, but towards the end of the article Janet confesses:


So what is the solution? Damned if I know. But the fact of the matter is we might never know for sure what some mentally and developmentally disabled people comprehend and what they do not.



This is the problem with bringing in busloads of people who are looking to park for awhile without having made any substantial investment in the field.  First off, they are not sure what a good intervention and a bad intervention look like.  And then, even if they see one that looks promising (like the use of edible reinforcers) they have little idea of how to properly implement it, monitor the progress or to adjust it.  Janet was doing what she was told, which is what you do when you don’t really know what to do.  You rely on others who apparently do know what they are doing to tell you.  And then you keep on doing it until someone tells you to stop doing it, change it or do something else.  At least Janet kept doing the edible thing.  Most would have quit and gone back to not doing anything.  Finally, they never really get to know their kids and what they can do or not do because they leave and pursue their “real” interests after 1-2 years, leaving the kids to the next noob who comes in and needs a place to park their bus until something better comes along. 


So we have a couple of choices.  One, is my co-teacher, Mr. Pyle, who can’t really do anything else and is just trying to make it to retirement or we have these other folks who come through on their way somewhere else.  And this is exactly the sort of place education, as a whole, is headed if we continue towards so-called reform which is really a sort of de-professionalization of the field.  Part of the idea of any preparation program is to weed out the nonhackers and the unmotivated.  Do you really want a doctor operating on you who hasn’t been through some degree of rigor, or is just there until something more lucrative comes along?  No, you want a professional who is dedicated to that profession.  You need a divorce lawyer who is dedicated to winning divorce suits, or an accountant who is dedicated to properly filling out tax forms.  You want someone there who has dedicated themselves to what it is they are doing.  The greater their investment in the form of blood, sweat and tears, the more likely they are to stick to a job, even if it is difficult.  If I am sending a behaviorally challenged child of mine to school, I want teachers who are willing to stick with him.  I want experience and dedication.  I want someone who can inspire confidence.


And that is not someone who is just hanging out until they either find something better or until retirement.  As a parent I’m somewhat passionate about this, and as a teacher I’m even more about it.  Maybe I’m getting grouchy in my old age, but while I like helping new, young teachers, I get a bit weary of spending time on someone who bails out after just a year or two. 

Maybe if they spent some time actually preparing to teach, they would have some idea of whether or not this is something they want to do before actually taking over a classroom.


5 Responses to “Parking it in Special Ed.”

  1. liz April 13, 2006 at 7:26 pm #

    Dick, after going to the JRC site and reading over the materials, I’m not sure that using skin shock / aversive conditioning is a priori inhumane. They do use positive behavior support, they pair the SS/AC with reducing/eliminating psychoactive medications.

  2. Janet April 13, 2006 at 7:52 pm #

    I always love it when I find someone who attacks something I wrote before or without coming to me for clarification.

    Yes, as my post indicates, I spent a year working as a paraprofessional in special education. This was not, however, while I waited for, as you described it, something better to come along. My undergrad degree was in another field entirely.

    The decision to go into teaching was not one I took lightly. After I finally decided to persue a career in education, I wanted to do some work in the field while getting my Master’s. This ended up being as a paraprofessional rather than as a sub. It was a position I sought out myself. Subbing would have been the easier route to acquire, but I thought the special ed experience would be much more rewarding and valuable. It turns out I was right. If anything, subbing would have been “parking my bus”. I wanted a deeper investment.

    As for “leaving” the kids, that was one of the HARDEST things I ever had to do in my life. I became incredibly attached to those children, especially one little boy in particular.In fact, perhaps this is the main reason why I grew so defensive at the sight of this post. However, the degree I had persued PRIOR to acquiring this position was for regular ed, not special ed. I had no idea going in the type of connection I would make because ALL of it was new to me.

    The entire year I worked there I went back and forth, wondering if I should have gone the special ed route all along. Even now I talk about going back again, but school takes time, money and dedication, so the decision is not always so cut and dry. To assume otherwise about a complete stranger actually borders on ignorance, in my opinion.

    Also, it needs to be said, that in any teacher’s lifetime, regular ed, special ed or otherwise, there comes a time when the children too move on. I would not have stayed with those children the next year as many of them moved to new rooms or even new schools. I went back to visit those who remained and stayed in contact with the classroom teacher, but I DID want to make a difference. As a paraprofessional I would not have felt I was truly making my mark. This is why I wanted to lead a classroom of my own.

    I will give you this. There are many regular education teachers who cringe at the idea of working with special ed students. In turn, however, I find there are a lot of special education teachers who often jump to conclusions about the intentions of regular education teachers. It’s not a contest. ALL children need to be educated by people who care enough to do the job well, regardless of their classification.

    In fact, if you have read any of the other posts on my site that revolve around my current position in so-called “regular” ed in an urban school district, my experience is anything but conventional. Regular ed is not a cakewalk and not all teachers are in it for long summers and tenure. Some of us care a lot more than that. This is why I am so passionate about false assumptions made about my character.

    I felt I had to try and set the record straight cause quite frankly, from one educator to another, it seemed you had a lot to learn.

  3. liz April 14, 2006 at 4:36 pm #

    Dick, I used your post and Janet’s response as an illustration of how blog conversations can become tangled because of the lack of opportunity to check out each other’s presuppositions.


  1. Teach Effectively! » Teacher preparation - April 13, 2006

    […] Over on The Life that Chose Me, Dick has an entry about teachers who work in special education on only a temporary basis. Parking it in Special Ed. is worth a read. […]

  2. The Life That Chose Me » Before Moving On… - April 17, 2006

    […] Before moving on, I do need to apologize to Janet, whom I offended in my prior post.  In her comment-turned-post, she did clarify a great deal about her own circumstance.  Namely, she wasn’t a special ed teacher, but a paraeducator in special ed.  That is significant, since I count that as a good way to get experience in the field without actually taking over the class.  Who ever her supervising teacher was, that teacher was lucky to have her since paras who are invested in their education (i.e. working towards a master’s) are generally of higher caliber than those who might simply be looking for just another job.  […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: