Special Education: Public Education’s red-headed stepchild   Leave a comment

It’s a New Year, but I didn’t make any major resolutions for the year. I have recommitted myself to the same resolution I have made for the past 3 or 4 years: To have more patience with adults. I can deal with kids, their incessant questions, and energy. I expect grown, ‘educated’ folks to know better. Pretty sad when you have to make the same resolution year after year. I guess that’s the price you pay for being in the Education business. Anyway, I was checking the AJC for Maureen Downey’s ‘Get Schooled’ blog to see if she posted anything new. Today’s post, ‘Clayton professors describes “forgotten rooms” and children in alternative schools‘, was of particular interest to me because I am a former Special Education teacher. The article may carry a certain level of shock-value to the average person, but as a former educator, not much surprises me. I will admit that the principal’s nonchalance about the room’s existence is one of the reasons why I it is difficult for me to have patience with adults. She could have refused to use that room, especially knowing that a student hanged himself at another Georgia school in one such room.

But this post is not about that school, or the other 50 that still use the seclusion rooms for students deemed ‘too dangerous’ for their classrooms. As I have said before, if you tell someone something over and over, they begin to manifest those words but that’s a different blog altogether! I am writing this because I am somewhat pissed off. Why does it take this book, or any other, to draw attention to the apathetic attitude towards most Special Education programs and the students receiving services? For those of you teaching, have you noticed that classes for students in Special Education are all located in one area of the building? In trailers? If so, did you realize that was illegal? Probably not because no one wants you to know that. I raised that issue my first year teaching and was told “That’s the way it’s always been?” Of course, being the smartass that I am, asked “Does that make it right?” It’s no wonder kids are embarrassed about their different abilities: They are secluded and reminded of their disabilities for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in front of the entire school! When you have some time, read up on the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provision in IDEA. I am still amazed that some teachers/administrators/districts make no qualms about violating federal law.

Another issue I raised during my first year (yeah, in case you are wondering, I was in the principal’s office more than my students) was regarding the sham they call ‘Collaborative Teaching’ (also known as Co-Teaching/Inclusion). I had the opportunity to teach in that arrangement twice during my first year. The first semester was perfect: The General Education teacher and I actually both taught. She knew that I had a degree in History, so there was no issue about whether I knew the content. The students understood that we were both teachers, equally responsible for instruction, discipline, etc. In fact, our arrangement was so great that we never needed a sub when the other was out. Second semester was a completely different beast. I was assigned to ‘Co-teach’ in a U.S. History classroom. Well, that teacher felt that since I was a Special Education teacher I couldn’t possibly know anything about U.S. History. I didn’t have any space in her classroom; I was told that she would handle ‘her’ students and I would handle ‘mine.’ Never mind the fact that none of the students liked or respected her….Well, the semester progressed and I had made several requests to the department chair and principal about getting a Teacher’s edition. The principal told me that because I was the Special Education teacher, I was not entitled to a Teacher’s edition. Ha! The average person would have believed that and threw in the towel. I ain’t average, by any stretch of the imagination. I contacted the district office to get information on the correct procedure. The Lead Special Education Teacher assured me that I was entitled to those resources since I had students in the class. Guess what arrived a few days later? I will say that after that incident, I no longer questioned or defended myself when they referred to me as a Yankee. Damn straight! I don’t have a doormat on my back. I am sure they were glad to see me go!

That was a small victory. Unfortunately, the kind of advocates needed for Special Education are ‘Always outnumbered, always outgunned.’ I was fighting for more than a book. Hell, I could care less about the actual book but more about the message those attitudes send to the students. They have rights. Not just the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), but to be treated equally, with dignity and respect. Textbooks can’t teach those lessons. I hope every Special Education teacher finds his or her voice to ensure your students have the resources they need to be successful. The lesson starts with us.

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