New Special Ed. Teacher Blues

23 Nov

It’s been awhile since I reached out and touched another blogger, despite a number of you good folks stopping in and commenting.  One of those is named Leila, writer of Special 2 Me, which is a good read for anybody who is in special education, has ever had anything to do with it or who might be considering the possibility of having something to do with special education.

She has been teaching less than a month, and her blog really does capture a lot of the grit, determination and frustrations involved when someone is grabbed off the street, run through a bit of a boot camp and then plopped in the middle of a classroom filled with students who are not necessarily the most or best socialized.   In a recent post she wrote, she opines about the lack of resources, material and support compared to what she had been sold prior to taking the job.  Special educators the world over will recognize that little song and dance.  In many ways, school recruiters are a lot like military recruiters, especially when it comes to getting special education teachers.  They offer up all sorts of things, trying to get a body to sign up.  However, once you’re in, it becomes totally different.

Welcome to the ‘Nam!

When reading that post by Leila, I was reminded by a statement made by the main character in Platoon played by Charlie Sheen.  He comments how the veterans don’t even want to know a new guy’s name because he’s probably not going to make it.  They also figure that if you’re going to not make it, it’s best to be picked off in the first few weeks so that you don’t suffer as much.  It’s a lot like with new special education teachers sometimes.  We don’t do it on purpose, but there is a niggling suspicion the perhaps the newbie might not make it.  Those of us who have been in awhile have seen it happen.

One reason why I’m not venturing out and helping the new folks as much as I ought is probably more to do with my own chaotic environment.  I can look pretty competent, especially next to the new folks, but the truth is I am perpetually and woefully behind.  I always have been.  Even when it looks like I’m way ahead of everyone else in my paperwork, I am still behind in other areas.  I’ve just learned when and where I can compromise and cut corners to make it look better.

The primary bullets a special education teacher has to dodge consist of students who draw blood from other students (or themselves), angry parents, lawsuits, administrative paperwork deadlines, and most of all; the teacher’s own emotional/mental baggage.  If you have any sort of emotional or character weakness, the kids will find it and root it to the surface in a big hurry.   Might as well be honest with them and then move on.

Someone asked me if I feel effective as an educator.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  I think we are most often our own worst critics, and I do fall into that category.  I am getting to a point sometimes where I’m wondering if what I’m doing is making a significant difference.  Does it matter?  I’m not to a point where I’m content to just draw a paycheck and hold out for retirement.  I want to be better than I am.  I feel good about what I do, but many of the things that have been highlights have little to do with my job description!  For instance, so much of what I was NOT prepared for or taught was dealing with the parents.  Most teachers come off as judgmental pricks when it comes to dealing with parents.  Sometimes I still do.  But I have learned that when that happens, I really, really need to get in a lot closer to that parent, even if it means going to their house (with permission, of course).  Many of my parents are dealing with issues beyond anything I’ll ever see in the classroom with their own family disruptions.  Much of what I’ve been doing is putting the parent at ease about how they are doing as parents.  They are doing the best they can with the hand they have been dealt.  Even if a parent is seemingly unsupportive, I’ll still do my best to keep the communication lines open without forcing myself on them.

And no one ever told me about all the mucous and bodily fluids I would be dealing with.  But that is the biggest part of my day!  And I do it better than anyone else.

My effectiveness right now is less about being an educator and more about being a compassionate and diligent human being.   And that was taught to me more by the kids themselves than anyone else!  I think much of the teething that we go through early on is simply finding our place and our own style.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some other teachers come into their own, and it was not without a considerable amount of pain and hardship.

So I feel for all the new teachers, but especially those dropped in the middle of the year.  No one can tell you what to expect because most of the ones doing the interviewing and hiring have no idea!  But think if it like that reality show, Survivor, where the object is to outplay, outwit and outlast.

And if things really drag you down, look at my countdown category to see how long until Christmas break!



8 Responses to “New Special Ed. Teacher Blues”

  1. Casdok November 26, 2007 at 1:16 pm #

    From my first visit here and reading this post, i widh there were more teachers like you!

  2. Leila November 27, 2007 at 7:09 pm #

    Thank you for the post and the increased traffic. I really appreciate. You’re actually giving me more support than my administrator. Thanks.

  3. Michelle December 5, 2007 at 8:17 pm #

    You are great. I would love to talk to more people who teach Severe and Profound. I have 5 kids also and I struggle daily. This is my second year with these kids and I still feel like I have no idea what I am doing. I am constantly looking to find another support or just soeone to bounce ideas off.

  4. Lila January 24, 2008 at 1:57 pm #

    I could totally relate to what you wrote. I just completed my first year as a special ed teacher. I know my administrators thought I wasn’t going to make it. I have 6 kids and I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m the only special ed teacher on campus. How do you deal with administrators who don’t understand your kids? It might help if they tried to get to know them. But I learned to stop asking for help from them. Their answer is always “You have the training in special ed so you should be able to handle it.” It’s like now that I’m not new, I am starting to see people’s true colors. But my kids make my day. If anything else, they make me laugh everyday. They drive me crazy, but my life would not be the same without them.

  5. jp February 2, 2008 at 10:32 pm #

    i am a 32 year old and was in speacil ed went for collage but its not good enoughwhat good is speacil ed. this has turned my life upside down after i broke my hip i can not do the things i did b4 as in job wise.

  6. Jason LaLime July 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    I think sometimes that writing software for computers is something like being a special-ed teacher. Excep thtat the computers always remember everything you taught them the day before. But dealing with the parents sounds a lot like dealing with the end-user. I don’t know. I have met several special-ed teachers in AA meetings. Be carful not to get started down that path.

  7. Anonymous January 16, 2009 at 5:57 pm #

    I am not a new special education teacher, but I can remember wishing of a website like this during my early years. This is my 7th year teaching (High School Special Education) I taught in a High School in the South Bronx for 5 years. The first year was a bit rough, but I was lucky enough to have an EXCELLENT Assistant Principal that was supportive and encouraging. I faced many challenges but was able to move on. My fourth year was rough with the change of Administration (New Principal) and lower level kids. I began to receive kids that could not read and were mildly retarded. Administration had tough expectations, I was to have my students pass the Regents or RCT exam for the State. The student population became increasingly difficult but I managed. I moved to New Jersey and I have been teaching here for two years. The students are a bit better but there are still the same issues of poor materials, too many different age kids grouped together and Special Ed classes treated as dumping grounds. I must say that even after your yolk years have passed and you develop into to the chicken teacher, the same problems remain. So why should we stay? Well, I just drove an old student of mine up to college this weekend after helping with all her paperwork. She cried and said, “Thank you for helping me, and making my dream come true. Another one of my students graduates in May and said she has a ticket for me. This is why- Even when you feel your tripping over your feet, we are actually clearing the path and making a difference!



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