Dealing with Cruel Words

23 Mar

I was surfing around and came across this older post from California Teacher Guy (who is at this moment drinking a pilsner in some haufbrauhaus to help him get over his jet lag) that got me to thinking.

[WARNING: I’m not going to water this down so it might be ‘R’ rated for the potty talk.]

In that post, a fellow teacher refers to an EBD student as a “Piece of Shit.” Later on, he posts some advice given to him by others as to what he should do, including being a good example, watching a video tape and taking hidden camera footage.

I have only occasionally come across this attitude since working kids with severe intellectual disabilities. However, I know that it is out there. I also know the causes of it. I once had a similar attitude, myself.

Twenty years ago, I was teaching a regular education elective class at the high school level. Vocational agriculture to be exact. 20 years ago, colleges began changing their admission standards and tightening them up. They began requiring 2 years of a foreign language along with more core subjects which meant precious little space for electives. And this meant that I got very few college-bound kids in my agriculture classes. Who did I get? Us agriculture teachers had many names for them. Rum Dums. Sweat hogs. Dummies. Speds. We resented their presence mightily. I remember getting after a guidance counselor for steering students away who might actually want a career in agribusiness from taking my classes. I ended up sort of fleeing the situation by getting certified in general science, biology and chemistry. But I ended up at a school that boasted being able to teach kids with learning disabilities. And I kind of liked it. I was on the road to reform. I still had issues with student behaviors but I was learning to deal more proactively.

There are a couple of reasons why teachers dislike special education students as much as they do. The biggest one is ignorance. As an ag teacher, I had no idea what to do with these people and hadn’t received any instruction in dealing with kids with special needs. And yet, over half my class was made up of kids with some sort of disability and many of the others simply weren’t identified. The other reason is lack of support. When I had all of these students with special needs, I had no help or guidance as to what to do. I was on my own and since I was a brand new teacher, I was going to struggle no matter what. I met with a couple of special education teachers but some seemed more interested in piling more work on ME in having me fill out assorted checklists for evaluations. The end result was that I had very few fond feelings towards a group of students who needed a lot more support than I was capable of offering at that time. I don’t remember saying a student was a piece of shit, but I think I probably thought it more than once. My fellow agriculture teachers had every bit as much hostility as I did as this was not the sort of situation we had studied about in our college classes.

One could probably say that it was poetic justice and God kicked my ass for having such evil thoughts by placing me in the most special of the special education settings and by virtue of having a child of my own with exceptionalities. I had no choice but to become more educated. Being more educated about the people around us is the cure for a whole host of ignorant prejudices, and as educators that’s sort of what we’re called to do. We are fighting the war on ignorance.

People say all sorts of things without thinking. Anyone who would say something like that around me would be in for some sort of education with a fair amount of personal counseling to boot. That teacher was voicing her frustration, and it is wrong of her to take it out on the kids, but confronting her and being hostile isn’t going to improve her outlook at all. Getting her reprimanded will help neither her nor the students unless maybe she’s fired. But then you’re back where you started with the next ignoramus who decides to try to teach these challenging learners. So those who know have to educate those who don’t. It’s just part of my job, and I try to take a supportive role especially for the beleaguered vocational teachers who get the bulk of the exceptional students. So part of the answer is protect our students but also do so without being too harsh on teachers who say silly stupid things. Not that I haven’t jumped on a few, but the sad part of that is that those teachers I’ve gone after were special educators! Gah!


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