13 Things Being a Special Education Teacher Has Made Me
1) A multitasker-
If you ever have attempted to teach in a Resource Room you know that you should be able to teach math, science, language arts, and hold a study hall all at the same time. If you can’t do this, don’t bother. If you think you can hack it, give it a shot- 4 kids, 4 subjects. Then, add in an interruption or two, a phone call, and a meeting cancellation. If that’s not enough for you, remember that you need to meet all 4 of your students (in the 4 subjects) where they are and bring them up 3 grade levels this year, at least.
2) A hoarder-
I have about 1,000 books ranging from Kindergarten level to 9th grade (some from the 1980’s), 86 hanging file folders, 62 Special Education books, 34 pocket folders, 22 boxes of pencils, 19 empty binders, 17 empty bins, 14 boxes of colored pencils, and 2 full bins of box-less colored pencils. There are endless highlighters, markers, crayons, erasers (both pencil top and big), lined paper of all sizes, not to mention the construction paper, glue sticks, glue bottles, and stickies. Oh the stickies!. I really have no excuse for this. I just keep thinking, “I may need this someday,” and put it aside for (hopefully) future usage.
3) An APA writer-
I know, I know, eww! During my undergrad, I loathed Psych classes because I had to write papers in this dreaded format. I definitely love me some MLA format! Those days are gone….
4) A notetaker-
I have to document everything. I mean everything. This job has forced me to note when I make phone calls, write up students, and sometimes (on rare occasions) when students use the bathroom. Oh I love documentation. Really I do.
5) An adapting and modifying machine-
If you need an assignment modified to meet the needs of 23 different kids, you know who to call! I’ve seen it all from allowing kids to stand to encouraging them to sit on an exercise ball. I can cloze the hell out notes and provide 5 different versions of the same question. We do what we have to do to get the desired outcome.
6) A plan queen-
I have a plan for everything from behavior to meetings to classroom. I can plan on the fly, I just haven’t mastered planning in advance….
7) A positive behaviorist-
Every behavior has an antecedent and every antecedent has a behavior. I can read kids behavior and while it frustrates me, I can usually pinpoint what it’s all about and usually offer a solution. While I do have to create boundaries and expectations, I also understand that not everyone can physically and emotionally meet these on a daily basis. It is what it is. Always remember, bad behavior is not usually a personal attack against you.
8) A “to-do lister”-
I have to-do lists everywhere- on my laptop, in my bag, on my whiteboard, on my calendar, in my email. My lists are everywhere. Hopefully I’ll become better at actually finding this under stacks of paperwork. Oh well.
A student has a breakdown in the middle of the hall? No big deal. They miss school for 4 days in a row? How can we catch them up? They interrupt my every 3 words? They must have had some sugar. They swear at me? I’ve been called worse. I get a kick to the shins or a bite on the arm? It didn’t draw blood. As long as everyone’s safe, we’re good!
This is my least favorite. I have to be nice. To everyone.
11) Repetitive (and patient about it)-
I have to repeat myself at least 7-18 times during the course of the day, and I’m usually pretty nice about it (that is if you can’t read my sarcasm).
12) An acronymer-
Seriously. Everything has an acronym. IEP (Individualized Education Plan), RTI (Response to Intervention), PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports), RET (Regular Education Teacher), SPED (Special Education), AWN (Advance Written Notice), WN (Written Notice), DOE (Department of Education), the list goes on forever.
When I taught regular ed, I remember getting frustrated with the students who just didn’t seem to get it. I would create innovative (I thought, anyway) lesson plans, adapt and modify (I thought, anyway), and attend meetings (I thought, anyway). I would get to know the student and attempt to see their point of view, but I was still there to teach them how to write. I wasn’t there to advocate for them, celebrate behavioral growth, or to understand their struggle. Don’t get me wrong, as a RET (see above) I cared and wanted them to do well, but it wasn’t the same. Now I get it. Now I get what it’s like to go to bat for a kid that won’t thank you for always standing by their side. Now I get what it’s like to stock food for kids who have not had anything to eat. Now I can explain to a colleague why the student is likely acting the way they are. I can understand that sometimes, a smile or nod of the head is all a student can physically muster. It has also made me appreciate our education system, somewhat. With Special Education Teachers (whether you believe in the hype or not), kids will never be left to fend for themselves in a system that tells them they need to be as ‘smart’ as someone without a disability. I understand that these kids are totally frustrated because they are reading 4 years behind grade level. I also understand that they want to succeed and if any student (disability or not) tells you they don’t care and don’t want to do what you are asking them to do are either frustrated or don’t see the purpose. It is our job to assist with both of these problems.
I will say that if I even venture out back into the world of Regular Education in my desired English field, it will no longer be regular. I’m not sure what’s in the cards for me in my future, but I do know this- of all the 13 things being a Special Education Teacher has made me has changed me. I challenge all of you Regular Education teachers to meet us in the trenches and try it out- you might like it.
Fight for the underdog today!!