I know I have sometimes gotten down and negative here, as I often use this as my own personal forum to vent various frustrations. But this is also a good place to tell about stuff I’ve accomplished to any would-be future employers out there who are looking for a special education teacher. Remember, I AM HQ!
I had a student who came to me in a wheelchair. This is not unusual, since most of my students nowadays seem to be in wheelchairs. However this little guy was different because he could, in fact, walk. He had an irregular gait due to his particular syndrome, but he could walk and get around pretty well. And that was kind of the problem. He was getting around TOO well. And he would get into everything and destroy whatever he got his hands on. He was all hands and all active. And he knew how to drive his chair probably better than he could walk. So containing him and keeping him out of trouble involved finding some elaborate way of blocking the wheelchair up so he couldn’t move it. This was easier said than done as he was also fairly clever and persistent. The wheelchair was basically used by everyone as a restraint device. Keep in mind, he was seen as unmanageable all the way through middle school.
And within 2 years, I got the boy to a place where he could be put just about anywhere and he would basically stay put. He would still occasionally want to wander off, but he was easily redirected. He went from being my most unmanageable challenge to being one of my best behaved students. And he no longer needs or uses the wheelchair. Not at school, not on the bus and not at home.
I’m not going to get into all the behavioral techniques used to getting him to that place. I will just say that perseverance and determination were major factors toward getting him where he is today. I’m not to proud to say that when he first came to me, I didn’t want him in my room. I thought we were already overcrowded and understaffed. Haha! Little did I know what was to come! But I had no choice but to bite the bullet and dig in and teach this student how to conduct himself in a classroom without wrecking the place. He will still wreck things if he gets his hands on them, but I have little toys and things he can use to keep his hands busy. He’s still very active, but he can be active in his own space. While there are still a whole lot of things he can not do, he can now be maintained without his wheelchair. This is a relief for his family who previously had to cart the thing around everywhere they took him. It is less bother for the bus, as they no longer have to mess with the lift.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention that this accomplishment in no way affected the school’s test scores, graduation rate or AYP. At no time did teaching him how to control himself address a state academic standard. And there is no part of the Georgia High School Graduation Test that measures whether or not a student requires a wheelchair. None of this will appear on the Georgia Alternate Assessment. I took time out from academic instruction in order to address this students needs, which pretty much violates whatever tenets are set by NCLB. There is no way to align the goal of not needing a wheelchair to any state standard. And it also was not explicitly stated as a goal in his IEP. Our beloved governor has not offered any merit pay to teachers who can get a child to not need a wheelchair anymore. There are no incentives offered by the state of Georgia to recruit or retain people that can do this. There is nothing on any evaluation instrument for teachers that says this is even a worthwhile activity.
Despite several who told me this endeavor was a waste of time, I did it anyway. And while I have no test scores, enhanced pay, accolades, awards, or anything from other people that says this is at all important, I do have an empty wheelchair in the corner that has not been used in a very, very long time, except to hold a coat or a bag. And I have the audacity to feel pretty good about that!
Lots of my fellow teachers do stuff like this all the time and we don’t talk about, because it doesn’t address a state standard. It isn’t recognized or rewarded because it doesn’t result in a college scholarship. And this student can’t give me a recommendation to an employer because he can not read, write or talk. But he can walk, which is how he gets around now because he does not need a chair to restrain him. He has learned to control himself to some degree.
The story of this student is not over, as he continues to progress. He has a long way to go, and I hope he continues to progress. But it will have to be with someone else. Perhaps there are other students in other schools that need to learn self control. It would save some poor high school teacher’s hair if more kids could learn that skill in middle school. And that is sort of where I’m aiming at the moment. I would like to get into a smaller community and with a younger set in order to see if I can apply some of this experience earlier on.