Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being a special education teacher means my teaching role is different from a regular ed teacher. I've done both roles, and I know the pitfalls of both. I know that in this position, I have fewer students, fewer assignments to create and assess, and fewer parents to deal with. I know that to a regular ed teacher, looking at that huge stack of papers to correct over the weekend, my handful of students looks easy.

But let me tell you what it's like.... Every single one of "my" kids thinks I am theirs, singley, wholey and without fail. They think when they need help, are having some crisis, real or perceived, I should be THERE, NOW. My relationship with those kids is different from a typical teacher/student relationship on many levels. I am there go-to rescue person, their safety net when things are falling apart, the person they feel they can be honest and open with, the person who will go to bat for them in any class or situation. I am the one person they feel comfortable venting to, taking out their frustrations and angers on, the shoulder they want to cry on.
When a regular ed teacher has those same students in class, they may sit, quietly, complacently, pretending to work, trying hard to look like everyone else, even when they are overwhelmed. They just want to fit in. Or on the other end of the spectrum....They may be the opposite, loud, obnoxious, disruptive, trying to play the part of the class clown instead of being a 'dummy'. Either way, they don't want the 'normal' kids to realize they themselves aren't 'normal'.

But when they come to my room, it is a group of special ed labeled kids all together. One of the biggest arguments against resource room programs points out the tendency of these situations to bring out the worst in these students. They feed off each others' problems, exemplify and exaggerate their own worst traits, and just create a haven of mismatches, all thrown together, fighting for attention, wanting to just be themselves for awhile.

Just today, my third hour guided study period, a group of 11 kids, all with their own unique set of issues, was a whirlwind of chaos and confusion. One didn't want to do the assignment he needed tomplete for science, a simple look up vocab words in the glossary assignment. Another was upset at me, himself, the rest of the world because he didn't have a netbook because he intentionally destroyed his last week and needed it to do an assignment, so he kept walking out, slamming the door behind him. Then, another was mad at his sister because she took his iPod so he was in BIG TIME refusal to do anything mode. Four were trying to complete their science fair posters, but have no idea individually how to do it - no idea what a hypothesis is, variables, etc.... -demanding my constant help, even though they have not really completed a true science project to create their posters from, they all expected me to figure out how to write their hypothesis, make their graphs, etc... Another was working on a science worksheet and needed help finding answers. In the meantime, the one with the science vocab to do, is usually allowed to play games on iPad for 20 minutes but he'd taken it home over the weekend and left it, so he was upset about not having it to use. Another needed a computer to print a paper for a class, as if I am to just wave my hands and create one. Another needed to go to the library but mostly just wanted to wander. The poster kids have markers and glue and are creating major messes of paper and stickiness everywhere. And thank goodness, one was absent.... but it was still a typical hour of chaos and some productiveness, but where I felt like I was juggling bowling balls or flaming torches. trying to keep them all sort of on task, without injuring each other.

Every parent, every student, thinks THEY, THEIR child, is the most important one. I get that. I totally get that. But keep in mind, I have 16 students on my case load, another dozen or so special needs students I touch base with over the course of the day in various cotaught classes, as well as the regular ed kids in those classes who turn to me for help and support. I cannot babysit one student all day. I cannot always be there for every little crisis and event. The best I CAN do is help your child learn to be independent on their own, learn to be responsible for their own decisions and actions. I will do everything I can to help your child be successful. I will. I promise you that. But.... I am one person. Ultimately, you and your child must take some of the load on your shoulders as well.

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