When I first started teaching, I was a special education inclusion teacher. I liked my job. I like working with struggling students. On the flip side, I often felt as if my talents were wasted. not utilized to their maximum potential. Most of the day, I felt more like an aid than a teacher. I was the secondary person in the classroom, not the sage on the stage.
After a few years, I was offered the opportunity to teacher 8th grade history, then moved to 7th grade math, where I spent a majority of my teaching career. Three years ago, a special education position opened again, and I took it.
Giving up my classroom, my curriculum, my students, was tough. I knew it would be but I was motivated by many factors.
The new job has come with its challenges and its joys. By definition, the students I work with are struggling, at-risk students who present me with a constant need for innovation, patience, and determination. Never a dull moment does not begin to describe my classroom on a daily basis. From students with ADHD who cannot sit still for more than 2 consecutive seconds, to those with emotional, often violent, outbursts, to the low functioning ones who simply cannot grasp the content, regardless of what I do for them, it is like a 3 ring, well, maybe 12 ring, circus most hours.
But with the turmoil comes small successes. A parent shared with me that I was the FIRST teacher to EVER compliment her son. The first teacher, in his first 8 years of school, to EVER tell her he was a joy to have in class. The first teacher who had ever believed in him. The first teacher who was able to reach him, teach him, help him learn. And to myself, I thought, “How sad… how very tragically sad.”
And realistically, had I been teaching regular education, and this young man had been one of 25 in my class, would I have seen that side of him? Would I have been able to coax his compliance and attention as adeptly as I am able to in the small setting of special education?
Education has become an assembly line of ‘production’, with no time for coddling, no time for finding the inner child, no time for making personal connections with students. As regular education teachers, we are driven by the content, forced to herd the cattle every quicker and quicker, towards the slaughter of the standardized tests. In special ed, the herding becomes even more pointless. We are forced to push harder and harder to make these students fit the mold, meet the standards, get through the content, when in reality, what they really need are life skills, coping skills, and a way to become meaningfully productive members of society.