A Profession That Eats Its Young?

9 Jun


I Have an Interview


I finally got that phone call I've been waiting for, scheduling me for an interview on the 15th for the Behavior Intervention Specialist position. Seems a bit late for a July 1 start date, but I'll let the folks at the county office do their jobs.

As far as the position is concerned, I know I have a couple of key components in my background that not many others have. One is my background in developmental disabilities and the other is my background with EBD. Not too many people are around with both of those plus the behavior analysis stuff. One key component of the job is supporting EBD teachers, and for some reason I'm feeling a bit shaky there.


Not that any of them (EBD teachers) would know, simply because we have so few veteran EBD teachers in the county. I'd wager that there are precious few in the entire country. The burn-out rate among EBD teachers is higher than in any other segment of eduction, regular or special. In fact, if I wasn't so stubborn, I would have become just another statistic.


Back in the early '90's I was teaching science at a private school and began looking at going for my Master's degree in order to get Georgia certification. I talked to a professor at GSU (Harry Dangel, if you must know) and he laid it out that I wouldn't have to quit working to go back to school. So I began the arduous task of taking my GRE and taking a class or two. I initially decided that I would get certified in Learning Disabilities, since I had good success with those kids in the past. But my second GSU class happened to be in behavior mod. which was really Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers. The class was taught off campus by Dr. Powell who still might be managing the psychoed center in Marrietta. In any case, I found the class very reinforcing and it really did change the way I taught. At one point, Dr. Powell put the bug in my ear, "You know, you seem like you could do what we do, Ever consider behavior disorders?"


I hadn't, but did soon after. And so I ended up entering the EBD program. One reason was that I saw so many job openings; it looked like there was some real job security there. I was soon to realize why that was.


I quit my private school job and applied to be a para in Dr, Powell's county, hoping I might get a job at his center. But personnel took a look at my application, and had other ideas.


I had an Iowa certificate in Agriculture Education, and some experience teaching. The personnel director called me in, and said, "You know, paras don't make very much money. Why don't you try for some teaching positions? You can do that while you complete your schooling and get fully certified. We might even be able to get some grant money to help out with that."


She showed me the two pay scales and that was that. My application went from the para pile to the teacher pile. And I got some phone calls. The first place I interviewed was a large school in a fairly affluent part of Newt Gingrich's old congressional district. I spoke with the principal who introduced me to the department head and the other EBD teacher, who really was a bona fide veteran of 6 years or so. They also showed me the classroom.


Why didn't the dented file cabinets and skid marks on the wall clue me in? Lesson #1 – pay attention to the environment. It might be trying to warn you of something.


The other school was newer, and further out, so there were no skid marks or dents that I could see.


I remember I was offered both jobs the same day. I took the first one. Lesson #2 – Never take the first offer. At least not right away.


I had taken exactly 2 classes in my program, one of which was that behavior analysis class. I thought I could do anything with that. I was SO naive!


First off, I had never done an IEP in my life and had only a vague notion of what they were. The middle school teacher had neglected to do some the year before so we had several to do right at the beginning of the year. Fortunately she was a returning teacher so the county director made her come to the high school and do them. But I was still clueless. The paperwork was incredible, as the county office generated huge numbers of forms. I had one kid going through re-eligibility so I had all of THAT paperwork piled on. And during my brief 12 week tenure, I was part of 2 manifestation hearings.


The kids were, well…they were high school EBD kids. I was cussed at pretty much on a daily basis. I was preparing to teach math, English, geography and social skills, none of which I had any experience teaching. And I was teaching the English/literature across all 4 grades, 3 of which were taught in the same room at the same time. I was SO clueless!


I do admire English teachers because they have to make something most students take for granted, and make it come alive and be interesting. I didn't like English much when I was in high school. Teaching it was even worse.


I only had one parent who went after my scalp, who brought her son's psychoanalyst to the meeting. My behaviorism clashed with her Freudian psycho babble. That one parent (and her psycho-analytico guru was enough.


I had 2 different paras who were as new as me who rotated through my room. I had no idea what to do with them. One was an ex-music teacher who had a bit of a clue, so I was able to send a few of my (relatively) best students with her to work in the library while I remained alone within my den of inequity..


In October, it was looking bad. I really was unhappy with almost everything about this job. My first evaluation was terrible. Even though the kids behaved marvelously while I was being observed, I was gigged on every single one of the GTEP points. NOTHING was marked satisfactory. I needed improvement all the way down. I was so screwed. But I was still too naive to really know it.


The principal finally called me in mid October and said that they were making a switch. They put me in the permanent long-term sub position, and moved that guy into my position. My pay would stay the same for the rest of my contract, which ended at the end of the semester in January.


Things improved almost immediately for me. I had a chance to work in collaborative settings and see other teachers teach. I spent time with the MR kids and fell in love. I spent several weeks at a middle school EBD classroom and had a great experience.


But I was screwed. I would have gladly stayed in that position, but the principal said they were terminating that spot. Which was a lie. I then said that I was interested in the middle school job after that principal asked me if I'd be willing to take it. I never heard any more about it. I also said I was still interested in being a para – remember that is what I had originally applied for! I never heard a word. Ever.


I was chewed up, and spit out by that system. They wanted nothing more to do with me. I was dumb to take the job. They were bigger idiots to offer it to me. They didn't want anyone qualified, they wanted a warm body!


Teaching has been called the profession that eats its own young, and that is how I felt after going through that ordeal. They had me teach subjects I had no business teaching and put paras with me who were equally clueless. The 6 year veteran kept her veteran para and taught the science classes I had been teaching previous to this job. I was set up to fail.


So why didn't I leave teaching? Why didn't I leave special ed? Why didn't I at least leave EBD?


By the time I was kicked out of that teaching spot, I was further into the program. I remember writing my advisor, asking him what else I could do with a Master's in EBD besides teaching. The short answer was; not a lot. Maybe go on for my PhD?


But that experience, sad as it was, provided an important backdrop for the rest of my academic studies. I realized I had a LOT more to learn. I soaked up every single bit of knowledge that I could and made the most of every silly exercise, test and project.


After 7 months working fast food, I finally landed that para job at the psychoed right here in Magnolia County. And it was a wonderful experience.


I got my M.Ed. in EBD, and taught it for several years, but not in a self-contained setting. I remember interviewing for an EBD self-contained position at the other high school the same day I interviewed for the position I occupy today. That principal said that was his only opening. I said I wasn't too interested in being shoved into a corner room in the back of the building with the worst students in the school. That was the end of that interview. It lasted all of 5 minutes. The principal had absolutely nothing more to say to me. Needless to say, I was never offered the job.


I was offered and accepted this job in April. But my application was still out there and on the GDOE website. By late July, my phone was ringing off the hook with administrators from all over the metro area wanting to talk to me. They were all a day late and a dollar short.


The average tenure for EBD teachers is less than 3 years. My initial outing was less than 3 months.


Maybe that experience was just a fluke. Or maybe it wasn't. I found myself repeating almost the same thing just 4 years later. But that's for Part 2 of this story.



One Response to “A Profession That Eats Its Young?”

  1. julie July 21, 2006 at 2:56 pm #

    I had the same type of experience when I first went out. Also, for some strange reason I have stuck it out. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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