Get to Know Your Director of Special Education

4 Feb

In my recent Christmas video, I sort of had a bit of fun at my director of special education’s expense. Hopefully, she still has her sense of humor. Or perhaps the joke will be on ME! Hahahahaha!

That video itself was probably one of the best, most polished ones I’ve ever made in the technical sense. But the sarcasm in it might have been a bit much, so let’s see if I can fix any mis perceptions that might exist plus shed some light on what little I know about the job of special education director and the person our county has doing it.

In a small rural county, the director of special education is a lot more visible and knows the parents, teachers and students better than in a larger district. Our district has been transitioning from small to large over the past 15 years or so. So while she knows all of the teachers, she is not nearly as familiar with all of the students or their parents as she might have been starting out. Also, the administrative overhead grows as the district grows. While she has some assistance from other staff, there are still many things that only she can do and authorize and can not be delegated. Mainly, she answers to the state DOE as well as to the county superintendent. Anything that is required by the state, it is her job to make sure the entire county is in compliance. And this is not a small job, nor is it fun. At least I don’t think it is fun!

Consider that the U.S. Congress has teams of lawyers and staffers working to draft and reauthorize the IDEA. Then, this gets passed down to the state, where the DOE adds more layers to the regulations. By the time it gets to the county level, the requirements of the law have increased substantially. And then the special education director has to figure out how she is going to get all of the various disciplines within special education to comply. Most of the time, this translates into finding some way of getting teachers and education providers to comply and report. That means more paperwork. Our special ed director is and always has been very much pro-data which has added to the workload at times. But if I think about it, most decisions should be data driven. The problem is that there are hundreds of teachers in our county and not all of them are able or willing to comply with all the details the process requires. The newest teachers have yet to learn all the finer points, and veteran teachers can be a bit rebellious sometimes or merely forgetful. In any case, getting all of these educators to comply with the myriad of regulations required by the government can be like herding cats. Which means more effort has be expended on accountability and thus more compliance-driven paperwork.

Which leads to the next layer of responsibility which is managing all those teachers. By and large, the building administrators can do a lot of it, but if there is some sort of problem (like a rogue blogger) she is expected to be on the front line. She also helps support all of the teachers that need extra training. And every year, when things change, EVERY teacher needs to be trained. Even those of us who are already trained need to sometimes be trained again.

One of the main sources of work for me is the level of collaboration necessary in order to serve my classroom of students with disabilities. PT, OT, speech, VI, HI, APE, transportation, the school nurse and the cafeteria all represent people that I have to interact with on a regular basis in order to do my job. Now multiply that by a factor of about 100, and you might have some idea of what a special education director might have to typically deal with. Except while my involvement is primarily at my own level, hers runs all the way up to the state department and all the way down to the lowest classification of employee. Her involvement runs throughout the board office among all the areas of curriculum and administration.

In a perfect world, the special ed director could busy herself planning, training, keeping up with all of the latest regulations and requirements and budgeting. There is plenty enough there to keep a body busy all the time with just administering the extensive program that is special education. However, it is not a perfect world. We do have students that we have to deal with and each of those students have at least one parent. The level of satisfaction of these parents is by-and-large pretty good in our county. But it is not perfect. There is just no pleasing some people no matter what you do. And teachers do make mistakes. Some more than others. And who does an angry parent talk to if they have a serious complaint that they want action on? It’s usually the board office, and if the student has an IEP the point of contact is the special education director. While she can successfully delegate some of the smaller fires to other people she still has to follow-up to make sure it is dealt with. And then she takes the big fires that always take much longer than anyone ever plans. Sometimes this involves having to testify in court, which involves a lot of time taken away from all the other things she needs to attend to.

What this translates into is a constant stream of demands upon the time of this one single person, and I have only skimmed the surface of all the duties and obligations. It is a huge, gigantic job that is mostly pretty thankless. The special ed director is rarely thanked by parents, as she is no longer in the classroom. While so much of her job revolves around helping students with special needs her involvement is indirect and behind the scenes. Whenever the public is looking for people to give credit for in their child’s education, it mostly goes to the teacher. Administrators rarely get it, and those who sit in the central office rarely are recognized at all. What’s more, in the current times of budget constraints, the job is made all the more difficult as people are forever pointing fingers at trying to reduce administrative overhead. Since no one sees what administrators do, it is easy to say that what they do is unimportant or less important.

As teachers, it really does not fully sink in as what administrators really and truly do unless we expend some serious time and thought. Often, they can diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand with a parent or the public. They take care of the toughest of the discipline issues and some of the toughest decisions that have to be made. Often, all we see is all of the paperwork that this person seems to be making us fill out and thus all of our own time that is being taken. If I am having trouble getting something done within the district or even on a building level, many times the special ed director is the one that can get things done and moving along.

Now I’m going to get a bit specific here, and risk even more exposure to repercussions. But this is part of my new resolution to be more positive. I’m not going to mention her by name but everyone who is local here will know exactly who I am thinking of in this post. In my video, I was being vague on purpose because I wasn’t intending to go after anyone in particular although I can see how it could be taken that way. But now I’m going to be much more specific just to make sure there’s no confusion and everyone knows where I stand.

I’ve had dealings with our special education director with me as a teacher and then as a parent. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anyone who works harder, with more dedication and under more stressful conditions than this woman. I was acquainted with her when I was a para and she was an EBD teacher and she was hard enough working and talented back then doing one of the hardest teaching jobs that exists in special education. Over the years, as parent and teacher I can say that I have not always agreed with everything she’s done but I always felt I got a fair hearing. As much as she already has going on, she always takes the time needed in order to listen to what people are saying. Always. She was perfectly willing to address and present to the local autism support group which can often be akin to walking into a den of momma bears. She has totally supported local parent advocacy groups and their activities and events. Her level of dedication and effort to special education is unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. And I’ve been around some hard working people!

So while my video had a rather snarky tone to it, it was not meant to paint my own special ed director in a bad light. It was more along the lines of “Welcome to Life as a Special Education Teacher!” In this business, a sense of humor is pretty crucial to maintaining some semblance of sanity.

On that note, y’all can quite bugging her about the teacher who is blogging and making videos. I did let her know about them fairly early on in the process and have not tried to hide any of these activities from her or anyone else. However I’m going to address the specifics of the video project in another post.

Good luck to everyone else who is wrapping up GAA’s – only about a month to go!

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2 Responses to “Get to Know Your Director of Special Education”

  1. Gay Pelaez February 7, 2009 at 8:09 pm #

    I am just finishing my 7th portfolio of the year. The amazing thing is that I just received a new student and man is his portfolio fiction (from his previous school)…they sent me the first collection, now I am working on his second collection. It appears that EVERYTHING was done by the teacher (most all work is work samples). Well, my rebellion is that the people who score this thing are going to see how much this kid regressed from the first collection period!! What I send in will be what he can truely do, which is, by the way, not much!!!

  2. Coward February 22, 2009 at 10:48 am #

    I’m a casemanager for LD, EBD, OHI and SLD kids. My heart is bleeding right now for the MID’s who were re-classified as SLD and now sit in general ed classrooms wondering what the hell is going on. Without Resource classrooms, we are demanding students without the intellectual ability to sit in general ed classrooms where we beat their ego into the ground. There are no Community Based Instruction classes anymore. When queried by those in authority, I’m told, (honestly) “Isn’t that sad.” Really. We expect students who will NEVER learn Algebra to sit quietly for 90 minutes in a semester-long block schedule while they are presented with material they will never understand, and never pass the End-of-Course-Test for, and will never pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test for — and the bottom line is that with no appropriate services to offer. I am thinking seriously of putting my neck out, by disagreeing on the next IEP / Re-eval of one of my students because I don’t think she is being offered “appropriate services.” I think there is more we can do for her. Our higher up folks, who we never see in a classroom, are choosing, for whatever reasons in our tight economy and with NCLB (HA!) regulations to ignore this population who have some skills, but not enough to graduate with a regular ed diploma. “Isn’t that sad,” is not the best we can do for these students. “Isn’t that sad,” is not ADEQUATE! And yet, I live in fear of being the one singled out if I voice my honest belief’s. I need my job. But, my heart and conscience won’t let me abaondon this student to the fate of being torn down, rejected, and sent home (or quitting) before she ever learns anything that might make her a living, instead of getting a disability check for decades to come.

    At a recent Special Ed meeting, we were asked to come up with our five major concerns to give a nod to “best practices,” but then the concerns were simply ignored and likely trashed as soon as we left the “training.” I can’t tell if we’re being intentionally abused, or if hands are so tied that all our superiors can do is insult and ignore our concerns. I confess to being a coward since I’m the sole support of me. I’m not as brave as you, and do not feel in my small, rural, Title I school system, that I can do as the bumper sticker says, “Question authority!”

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