Part 2: A Profession That Eats Its Young?

12 Jun

Part one was a longish tale of my experience as an EBD self-contained classroom teacher. This was followed by a very good experience as a para in a psychoed. As that year closed, I was wrapping up my Master's Program at GSU. Some irksome policy by either the state or the university prevented me from being able to do my student teaching while being a para. My supervising teacher did hers while teaching, why couldn't I do mine? It's an insane rule. Fortunately, I was able to do my practicum during the summer which was a shorter session made even shorter by the summer Olympics. Yes, it was 1996.


My summer practicum was being done at a psychoed that was running a summer school. I happened to draw the higher functioning SEBD kids who were actually pretty street smart but they were also not keen to do the sort of work that I was assigned to assign them. The supervising teacher wasn't keen to do much either. Once again, I felt like I was being thrown to the wolves as I was trying to teach and there was little to zero support from the teachers or the school as no one wanted to do any academic work. And the predictably acted out. But my supervising professor rescued me, and found another placement at a private residential hospital for kids with SEBD. This worked out really well as they were actually running more of a real school instead of some sort of summer camp. And it also really worked out well as my next job would be at a residential hospital for students with SEBD in waay south Georgia.


The hospital job was a good one, even though it was year-round. I still got all the other school breaks, just not the summer one. But I did get 2 weeks extra vacation. In addition, my budget was thousands of dollars. I could buy whatever I needed and more, mainly because the FTE money went straight to instruction instead of filtering through endless amounts of administration. The hospital budget was entirely separate from mine. It was a locked unit, and if kids acted up too much, they were sent to the nurse who gave them a shot which knocked them out. I could teach whatever I wanted and so I increased and expanded my teaching. I actually did teach some reading and literature type things.


But the hospital was suffering, budget-wise. The state was cutting back and the Child and Adolescent unit was on the chopping block. There were two of us teachers there, and we were told we might want to look for other jobs. So we did.


I was picked up by the local psychoed, whose director happened to be from my hometown in Iowa (pop. 1500), can you believe THAT? Anyway, I was not in the main center, but in an outpost 15 miles away in another town. And then I was sent to an outpost of that outpost. I was waaay out. Me and one other teacher were out there with the high schoolers. I should have known.


Before starting the school year, all of the new teachers and paras were given training in the Boys Town system. It is a very structured management system, that does have a decent track record of success. I had the freshman, and actually knew some of the kids from the hospital job as they had visited our facility a time or two.


There were some difficulties. I had no materials. I had gone from having anything I wanted to nothing, and a budget of $150 to spend. Then there was my para. I was still not savvy what to do with them, but had learned a thing or two from working both sides. Unfortunately, my para was also a bus monitor, so she arrived with the kids and left with them. We had absolutely no time to talk. And there was no planning period. And I had to teach a regular and full curriculum. Every subject a freshman would take in high school, I had to prepare for and teach. Plus follow the Boys Town stuff.


Add to this some racial tension.


My class and the older high school students did their PE together in the gym. Or at least that's how it started out. But eventually, there was a huge brawl which shut that down. PE was easy up to that point, because they just played basketball or hung out. Now that we couldn't be in the gym, I had to prepare for PE, too. And I was on my own because my para refused to go outside on the ball field. So we had a few incidents there.


The real deal breaker came when one of the juniors, who had skipped school returned while I was having PE. We were playing dodge ball, which was actually fun. My version consisted of me hurling a large rubber ball at the kids as hard as I could. At their heads. They actually sort of liked it.


Anyway, Junior came strolling up the street and started talking to a couple of my kids through the chain link fence. Then some words were exchanged. Then he jumped the fence.


Junior had a gun.


He pointed it straight at one of my kids, right at his head. My kid never even flinched and actually dared Junior to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, I am trying to get the rest of the kids in the building, which was like herding cats. They all wanted to see someone get killed.


Did I mention all of these kids were Seriously Emotionally Behaviorally Disturbed? Just in case you forgot, I thought that might be good to throw out there.


None of them were too terribly bright, either. I have a bunch of kids who will not get out of the line of fire. Another who has a gun to his head, taunting the kid with his finger on the trigger. I have no idea where my para ran off to. Or the other teacher and her para. Or the administrator who was supposed to be out there with us. Good thing I wasn't the only fool. Junior didn't have the gun loaded, so he and my freshman just got into and old fashioned fist fight. And then Junior jumped the fence and was gone before an administrator finally arrived.


Jane, who was pregnant with our first child, was none too happy about the prospect of me getting shot. Neither was I. But I had all this prep work to do, so I was often there until dark.


A few weeks later, I testified at Junior's trial and he was promptly locked away in juvenile for a couple of years.


It was the middle of October when the head of the outpost called me into her office. She noticed that I didn't seem too happy. She then said my old job was still open. Would I like to go back? I thought for a minute or two and said I just might.


She dialed the number to the hospital, and I talked with the acting director. Would they mind if I came back? Would they be okay with that?


"OMG, YES! Please come back! We would love to have you back! We need you back! When can you start?" It turns out that the hospital didn't close after all and were stocked to the gills with children and adolescents in need of therapeutic educational programming.


At least I was wanted somewhere. I had to finish the quarter, which was just a week. I stopped by the hospital, got my old keys back and promptly pulled stuff off of shelves to prepare for my next and last week at the psychoed. I could not believe how easy it was to just have so much stuff. So I went back to the hospital, where I was wanted, needed and loved.


As it turned out, the hospital did end up closing the next year, which is when I got my present job in Magnolia County. Which is why I was the way I was with that principal who was peddling a self-contained job. That psychoed thing was still fairly fresh in my mind, and I was not interested in a repeat performance. Again.


I've stuck in this business despite some very bad experiences. Hopefully I'm not scaring too many prospective prospects off! But these are not the sort of things you will hear from college professors or the administrators trying to lure hire you into their EBD positions. And any teachers who might have been through these sorts of trials are probably long gone; long since fled to somehwere that paid more for less stress, like the military.

Told you things would get kind of gritty around here.

The fact is, I was shoveled off, abandoned, left on my own and generally taken advantage of, not just by administrators but by other teachers.

That first job, I was assigned a mentor who was the department head. She never once darkened my doorway. She called me to her room more than once, but never observed and gave feedback. No one did, except the administrator who evaluated me and promptly hung me out to dry.


Student teaching, I was never given feedback by the teacher at that psychoed center. I never saw her actually teach anything either.


And the deal with the gun; Where was everyone then? Junior belonged to the other teacher who was stationed out in deep space with me. Where was She?

There are many wonderful colleagues out there, who have supported and inspired me along the way. But there are quite a few who would just as likely shoot your back as leave it uncovered. You look around your fox hole and discover there's no one else there!

This is a tough business I've chosen…or rather a tough business that chose me.





One Response to “Part 2: A Profession That Eats Its Young?”

  1. Lisa Willett July 11, 2006 at 3:48 pm #

    I also teach SEBD students in Georgia through the Psychoed Network. I must admit that I am most fortunate with my middle Georgia (Macon) circle of SEBD teachers. We have fantastic administrators and teachers and the majority of our para pros are well trained and always there when we need them. I teach 8th graders and have had my share of hits and threats and have stepped into many a fight between burly 16 year olds (I’m 5’3″ and weigh in at 120 lbs.), but I LOVE my job. Yes, I admit that in Georgia we SEBD teachers have to beg, borrow (no, she won’t say steal!) and… borrow… books and teaching materials, but I think that has more to do with the state of GA than our local Bds. of Education (I could be wrong, though). So far, I’ve managed, and I am now looking forward to the school year starting in a couple of weeks. Guess it’s time to start begging! Working with SEBD students is rough and it can be very dangerous, but hopefully all teachers in this field receive the appropriate training they need and KNOW what they’re getting into from the start. It’s a very rewarding job. I do wish that more people in our communities, and especially out “regular ed” teachers, had an inkling of what we SEBD teachers go through each day. We put our health and even our lives on the line every every time we step into our classrooms, five days a week. I have the scars to prove it! Yet, I wouldn’t trade this job for all the gold in the world. These children have love in them, it just takes the time and effort to dig deep for it.
    Thank you for sharing your story – and thank you for what you’ve done to help these special children and youth.

  2. Dick July 12, 2006 at 6:16 am #

    Thanks for stopping by, Lisa, and thak YOU for your dedication to the profession! I’m glad folks like you are out there. It really is a tough job and it’s such a good thing when the job and the person “fit” like you seem to do. True, the budget for psychoed is derrived from the state, and they are less than keen to support the system fully. And generally, they do excellent work.

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