Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

The Five Secrets To Being A Special Education Teacher And Still Love Your Job

Do you want to know the secrets to working in Special Education and still love your job? Read on…

If you are reading this…it probably means that there is still hope for you. Perhaps, you are young and not yet jaded by the persistent thumb of the public education system pressed firmly on your back. Perhaps, you are an optimist, who tries to see the silver lining in everything. Or perhaps, you have already figured out the secrets to working in a job that has little pay, little respect and little support. Here my five secrets to being a special education teacher and still absolutely love it.

1. Understand that it is not about YOU.

We did not enter into a career in education to become millionaires… In fact, the only people that are really making money in this industry are the test makers (I don’t know that for sure…just venting a little). So…if you did not do it for the money…why are you a special education teacher? I know it was not JUST because teachers have the summer off! How many of us work Extended School Year (ESY), plan and dream about the following school year during the summer?

We do what we do because we love to work with kids. We do what we do because we enjoy people (or at least I hope we do). When we realize that it is not really about US… and what we can do for other people, our kiddos, our paraprofessionals, our co-teachers, and fellow staff… we can let go of trying to make our situation perfect for us. Being a teacher is a collaborative profession…which brings me to the next secret.

2. Realize you are not alone.

There are approximately 3.9 million teachers (including public and private) in the United States. Whether they are special education teachers or not…each one of them has a stake in education as a whole and has an interest in making it better. It can be easy to feel isolated especially if you are special education teacher in a small district. Perhaps you feel alienated by the school staff. You are a vital part of your school community even if you don’t think you are. Know that there are thousands of teachers…just like you…who are struggling do to the same thing.

3. Develop your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Are you on Facebook? No? Go get an account… I can wait…

Are you on Twitter? No? Really? Okay…I can spare a minute…

Are you on Linkedin? Okay…now this may take some time.

These three social media outlets are VITAL to establishing your learning community. I understand that this requires you to be somewhat tech savvy…but guess what folks. Technology is a huge part of the shift in education. If we do not get on board with technology we are going to be left out in the dust. For more information on how to manage your digital life you can check out my previous post —>> here. The big point here is to connect with people who are interested in the same things and then read, watch and do.

4. Have high expectations for yourself and your students.

Nothing irks me more than hearing a teacher say, “they are never going to get anything out of that!” or “so-and-so should have never been placed in (insert LRE placement here)…they should have been in (insert more restrictive placement) all along!”

Have some respect for your students that they can learn and will learn when given the correct supports. It is too easy to place the blame on someone else for why a student is in your classroom. Believe that you CAN teach any student! You are a special education teacher for a reason…you want to help realize a student’s potential. If you don’t know how to do it…there are ways to figure it out. Don’t give up on your student or yourself. You will become a better person and a better teacher for it. Where there is a will there is a way.

5. Make friends with General Education Teachers and then collaborate with them.

Okay…this is really the silver bullet. If you are Special Education Teacher and you sit alone in your classroom during your lunch and planning period….you are missing out on the richness of developing relationships within the school community. Once I opened up myself to know and befriend other teachers who did not teach my kiddos…I saw a whole other world. Sometimes it is easy to segregate ourselves from our school staff and then when we don’t feel included or are not invited to things we point the finger at them.

Something that has transformed my teaching is to collaborate with general education teachers on lessons that my class and their class can do together. This way…it is not just about integrating special needs students and typical students…it is about designing lessons so that EVERYONE can participate and get something meaningful out of it. No longer can we use the excuse… “well…they won’t get anything out if this.” They WILL because we can set it up for our kids to be successful.

If we apply these secrets to our education practice…I promise you will love your job. In fact…you may even want to start a blog to write about it. It happened to me.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

Example of Reverse Inclusion

I know. I know. Not a very snappy title. But…hopefully the various search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) will like it. Since inclusion is hard to accomplish without the right amount of paraprofessional support…I have compensated by engineering some reverse inclusion opportunities. I know this is not ideal but since we are not living in an…

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My Decision to Homeschool My Son With Autism

I’ve been asked to write about our decision to homeschool Jackson, our middle school son with autism, a number of times.  People’s response generally falls into 2 camps: extremely skeptical or enthusiastically supportive.  There seems to be little gray area on this issue.  As a former high school teacher, I never thought twice about my ability to educate my own child, so the negative response took me a bit off guard, until I realized that many people are intimidated by the complexities of autism education, therefore believe it ought to be left to qualified professionals.

As I was brainstorming how to explain our decision to an audience of professional educators who support an inclusive approach to special education, I felt an analogy would be an interesting way to illustrate our situation.

In addition to autism education, I am also passionate about healthy living.  I have been researching and implementing healthy nutritional, dietary and environmental lifestyle choices for over a decade.  I am a huge Michael Pollan fan and have been an advocate for local food before it became the latest craze.  So, it only seems fitting to have the local organic family farm represent our family in this analogy.  On the flip side, let’s have BigAgra business (like a Tysons or Purdue) represent any institutional school system, public or private.

With this in mind, the scenario I present to you is this:  A BigAgra business acquires a small local organic family farm.  What challenges do you foresee in this merger?  What steps need to be taken by both parties to ensure a successful transition?  And, is there ever a time to dissolve this newly created partnership because the two farms are just not compatible?

Inclusion of a small organic family farm into a massive, government subsidized and regulated farm is going to be challenging for sure.  But there are steps that can be taken to respect the integrity of the local farm without compromising the requirements of the big agricultural machine.  Compromise must be made on both sides for this partnership to work, and if it can work, how wonderful for all parties involved!  The local farm gets huge exposure to new and innovative ideas and practices and the large farm gets a refresher course on the value of individual care and attention to purity and quality of each morsel of food produced.

Sadly, my precious organic family farm, that I had tended with painstaking care everyday for 12 long, hard years, with every ounce of heart and soul I had, got plowed over and salted without anyone ever consulting me.   One day, it was there, and the next it was gone.

The decision to homeschool Jackson came very suddenly and very emphatically as we were sitting in an “emergency IEP” meeting 6 weeks into the start of middle school.  We had no idea he was having trouble until we got a letter in his binder requesting a meeting to address his behaviors and lack of academic progress.  We felt blindsided in the meeting because all the reports home up until that point seemed fine.  During the meeting, it became very clear that this large public school of over 2,000 students, that housed an autism center with over 220 students, had 1 system and 1 system only that every student had to conform to, and unlike our wonderful public elementary school, there was absolutely no room for individualization based on the needs of the child. We were essentially told, “that is how we do it here and Jackson needs to learn to adapt because middle school is tough and he has to figure it out like everyone else.” All of a sudden we realized that our special needs son was a product and not a person.

My local organic family farm was being swallowed up by an agricultural machine that had no time or interest in our silly ideas or sustainable practices to ensure a healthy and vibrant future for not only our food, but for our greater community.

So now, we homeschool, and we spend more time out and about in our city, meeting people, sharing our ideas, teaching tolerance and acceptance of diversity, spreading our passion for learning, and growing the highest quality human beings that we can with our small organic family farm of unique and awesome people.

Allison Trotter is a former high school government and economics teacher and writes for her blog Homeschooling Autism. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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