Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Education In All Ways Special: My "Why" In Special Education

Sped Thread: My "Why" In Special Education:    I was a teacher of special education in New York for 8 and a half years. I loved my self-contained classroom. I loved my coll...

Monday, May 20, 2019

My "Why" In Special Education

   I was a teacher of special education in New York for 8 and a half years. I loved my self-contained classroom. I loved my colleagues. I worked in the same school that I had graduated from. On paper it sounds like a win-win situation, right? In so many ways, it was. The town I taught in is nestled quite comfortably in the Adirondack mountains and borders Vermont. Picturesque, most definitely, mostly. The town is plagued with poverty. The impoverished homes are not so pretty.  It is riddled with the haves versus the have-nots. The nearest grocery store and hospital is 25 miles away. There are no clothing stores. There is a pharmacy. My students were the have-nots! I worked tirelessly to change this. In a small way, I did. I made sure that my students were not openly teased. In my classroom all were equal. I worked feverishly to bring my students out of the back corner of the school building and into the limelight! I did just this! We made the television news and the newspaper for our work with: The Not Perfect Hat Club, Special Olympics, and raising money to help the people of Nepal build a new school after their devastating earthquake in 2015. My students became champions!
   Then, my long-time friend in Pennsylvania called me to tell me about a classroom that was perfect for me! A middle school/high school life skills class. My dream was to build a better future for all special education students everywhere! I also wanted my husband to see beyond the small town that he had always lived in. It would be nice to live in an area with amenities. I pondered deeply about what I should do. I didn't really want to leave my New York students, but I also believe in taking chances to better myself. I left New York for Pennsylvania with sadness, trepidation, and hope. I didn't just hope for myself, I hoped that my New York students that I had nurtured for over three years would continue to blossom.  
   My new classroom in Pennsylvania was truly my dream job. Again, I found myself in an impoverish town but this town did have ample amenities. My husband was a changed man! He loved Pennsylvania! The grocery store was less than a mile away! What a treat! My new students of course tested me but I had two competent paraeducators who helped ease me into my new school and classroom. I also went from a public school system to a education company. This was a very big change!
   Did I keep in touch with my New York students? Of course!  Each year I made a reading chain in my classroom. The student earns a ring for every book read. I made this a contest between schools! The kids even started making cards for each other! We Skyped! It was wonderful! I won't say which class won, because to me, every person who chooses to read is a winner!
   My joy was short lived! I work for an education company. After two and a half years in my new school. The school decided to take their classes back from the company that I work for. Devastated? Oh, yes! Scared? Yes! Sad? Most definitely. My new class had come so far! They became independent. They learned to write! They went from crying and having tantrums about writing to writing paragraphs! We had a Makerspace! Also, I had began the first ever Unified, Special Olympic Bocce team for the school. We won the bronze medal! I had a student going to regular Algebra class! So much good was happening in this classroom! Alas, there was nothing I could do! I had to say good-bye!
   I was transferred to another program within my company. I would be beginning again in another new school. I was going to the infamous Autism Support program. I was quite nervous to say the least, but decided to give this a try! I poured over my new students IEPs. They are all in a center based program because they are aggressive. I would need to learn Verbal Behavior-Milestones Assessment and Placement Program by Mark Sundberg, Ph.D.. I would become a part of the Pennsylvania Autism Initiative Program.  I would lead a staff of 8. My question, "How can I lead when I don't know the program?". 
     I won't lie, this year has been the most difficult of my 22 years teaching and 35 years in education! Did I learn? Yes! Did I learn more? Yes! Do I still need to learn more? Always! Did I give up? No way! I never would.The best part is that my staff truly respect me! We became a family!
     My most valuable lesson is how valuable my students are. They are precious. They are so beautifully themselves! They don't care what anybody else thinks, they are always true to who they are! Did they become aggressive toward me! Yes! Yes, they did! Was it my fault? No! Like I said, they are true to who they are. Their aggressive ways are how they express themselves. My job is to find ways to avoid and/or cope with the aggression.  My job is to teach them ways to communicate so that they can express their wants and needs better. 
    It has been a hard year! I truly needed the support of my special education consultant, my board certified behavior analyst, the behavior support assistants, my paraeducator, my personal care assistants, the speech pathologist, my therapeutic support staff, the other Autism Support Teachers, and my student's parents! Thank you! My staff is amazing! My staff works so incredibly hard every day. Our job is not glamorous. We can't wear pretty teacher clothes or jewelry. My only hair style is to wear my hair pulled back so that just maybe it doesn't get pulled! We wear arm guards to protect us from bites and pinches.  I think I have been bruised since day one! We do toileting duties. I have a student who vomits multiple times a day. My students will not say "thank you". Yet, actually they do! I see little smiles when they see me. They calm down when I am make their discomfort, better. I may get hit, kicked,  pinched, or punched  but at the end of the day I do realize that this is why they are here and if they feel the need to do this then inside they are uncomfortable too. I see peace in their eyes when they see that I am there. I know that days I am not there are harder for my staff and my students. I have always prayed to teach the kids who need me the most. These are the kids who need me the most. We work hard in my classroom. We follow a comprehensive schedule, faithfully. My students need structure and routine and we provide this continuously. My class is learning life skills. This is new to them, they are learning through task analysis. Their lives are improving!
    My heart is in turmoil because I am searching for the next group of kids who need me the most. Again, I love my current kids and all of my former kids! If I move on great. If I do not move on, also great because this is where I need to be.  I truly want to teach in the field of special education forever! My goal is to always leave my classroom and my students better off than when I started. I always do this! I am also always grateful to the parents who entrust me with their most cherished blessing everyday.
   My "why" is because all kids whether special or not need a champion and need hope. My vow is to never give up on kids!