There are two basic reasons people make a major change from one occupation or location or relationship into another. One is that they are drawn or attracted. The other reason is that they are driven from where they are through dissatisfaction or circumstance. In my case, both of these factors apply. The dissatisfaction is well-registered through recent posts (although there is more to come) so I thought I’d deal with the attraction/enticement factor.
Now that it comes to me, it’s difficult to deal with one without the other.
One thing that has plagued me throughout my career in special education is trying to realize how I fit into the larger school mission. Sure, we are all devoted to educating students first, no matter the condition that those students happen to show up at our door. No matter what disability they have or whether or not they know English, we still teach them, such is the nature of public education. But the larger school culture does center on the core academic subjects.
Therefore, when I go to a faculty meeting, I am pretty much relegated to passive observer for information that mostly does not apply to me. Information on the graduation test, end of course tests, Learning Focused Schools and assorted other issues. When we went over our school improvement plan last week, I struggled to see where I fit into that plan. I’m not raising any test scores and certainly not improving the graduation rate. I try to be postive with whatever students I see, but we’re sort of in our own time and space.
Our program is about ½ nursing home and ½ school, which is unlike anything else in the building. And for the past 7 years I’ve been okay with that as there are advantages. The administration is unaware of what we do, and largely leaves us be as long as we keep the peace. And I am really stretching us out with the level of instruction we are doing as far as the grade level performance standards. And this has only fueled things in my own psyche.
I want to be a real teacher.
The other thing that really ignited my desire to move on, are the IEPs I LEAed for the milder students last spring. I attended scores of these meetings and the refrain coming from both the special educators and regular teachers was the same: there aren’t enough Highly Qualified science or math teachers to meet the needs of these students and teach collaborative classes. The choices were: regular education with little support or the special education diploma which is akin to dropping out.
Rewind 12 years. My first teaching job in the state of Georgia was at a private school teaching physical science. The school’s claim to fame was teaching kids with learning disabilities and getting them admitted into a college. For 3 years I taught there and felt I did a good job teaching the various science courses. I managed to get some pretty low-functioning students past the departmental exam. I did truly enjoy teaching science. I was eventually given a lot of the lowest level students precisely because that seemed to be where I did my best teaching. And that is precisely how I got the idea to get my master’s degree in special education.
So now I am coming around the circle and feel the urge to get back to the science teaching game. I try to do some of it here, and that’s been okay but it doesn’t resemble the sort of thing I was doing back then because my students are of an entirely different stripe. For instance, today’s essential biology question was “does the animal have fur, feathers or scales?” and I used some animal pictures along with a Gotalk to see if the students could tell me. Then we talked about birds having feathers and reptiles having scales and mammals having hair.
Thing is, the kids are sort of oblivious to all of this as I prompt them for their responses, mostly hand-over-hand.
I push a student around the school while he’s in his stander and we visit the academic halls. I find myself wanting to be a part of that. I see the teachers in there teaching and the students learning in less than 1,520 trials over less than 200 sessions. I feel it calling me.
Administration pretty much treats those of us in the self-contained severe settings as step-children. Our primary mission is to keep our kids from interfering with the real learning and the real learners. Our administration seems to see special education as sort of a pseudo-department and have no idea what to do with us. That just might be a skewed perspective based on my own limited view, however.
I can say the NCLB has not improved the lot of my students at all. It has served to marginalize them even more, in fact, as we are more short staffed in favor of servicing the golden band and we are not able to go into the community anymore. My paperwork requirements have tripled because of NCLB, when it was already daunting because of IDEA. IDEA has been marginalized while NCLB has taken over priorities and funding.
What I have been doing has value to the kids and their parents, but the larger society could care less as long as no one is getting abused. I’m staffed just enough to make us barely functional. It’s difficult keeping skilled people around.