Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Let's talk about what a special ed teacher's job is like. Your mileage may vary.

I am expected to teach language arts to sixth-graders, seventh-graders, and eighth-graders whose reading and writing levels are in the low- to mid-elementary range. Keep in mind that these kids are all at different levels, but I am expected to teach them individually, even though they are in a group. Many also have attention deficit (with or withhout hyperactivity) disorder. I then have to teach math to sixth-graders, seventh-graders, and eighth-graders, again to kids whose math levels are in the low- to mid-elementary range. In some cases, I have to teach math to kids at the same time I am teaching language arts to others in the same classroom. Many of these kids don't want to be there, and fight me at every chance they get.

I also have tried to help these students stay caught-up in their other classes, but... the kids frequently lie to me about work they have to do (we don't have homework), the teachers give unclear instructions (or I don't even know what these dozen or so classes I have to deal with have for assignments), and the principal tells me I really am not supposed to help kids with their homework: If the IEP says 83 minutes of math, I have to teach 83 minutes of math.

I have to teach a "Strategies" class at the high school, which is basically a glorified study hall that carries a credit. This time, I am dealing with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, again who don't see the benefits of a high school education. Granted, the older kids are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but not so much with the 15- and 16-year-olds. Again, I get a group of kids with four different classes apiece, who I am to instruct "individually." I also am considered the higher math "expert" somehow, so I get the kids from other classes who need help on their geometry or algebra work. At least those are kids who want to get some work done.

That's a busy enough job as it is, but I also have to be a casemanager. I have around 18 students on my caseload, ranging from sixth-graders to twelfth-graders. I am responsible for making sure the paperwork is up-to-date, including scheduling and facilitating annual IEP meetings, three-year re-evaluations (where I have to take part in testing the students), and dealing with parents. By the way, in many cases I was able to figure out how a student got "that way" just from meeting mom and dad. This paperwork is legally binding, even though I have no law-school training. If teachers (including me) don't follow the IEP, we can be personally sued, and so can the district. I am also expected to be a social worker, too-- A parent wanted me to meet with her and the family therapist, because this kid was smoking (cigarettes and weed), stealing from mom's purse, and skipping class. Am I supposed to be a big brother/father figure, too?

Don't forget the other teacherly duties, such as staying after school every quarter for conferences, working toward the 125 (?) clock hours every five years to renew my license, and attending faculty and department meeting.

All the while, I hear conservatives in the media telling me what a bad job I am doing, and how the public school system is failing. "No Child Left Behind" will fix that, they say. If we just test kids every year, that will force teachers to work harder, and if the kids don't make "adequate yearly progress," the government will take money away from the "under-performing" school. That's like a doctor withholding medicine because her patient isn't getting well quick enough.

Oh, don't forget homeschooling. I have a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction, as well as a B.A. in Sociology. I am a licensed professional. Any yahoo with a teacher complex can teach their kids at home, though. That's what really pisses me off.

I'm going back to regular ed next year. At least I can actually teach kids something instead of being "support staff." That's when kids say they you're not a "real teacher," because you don't have your own classroom.

Now I need to calm down before "Scrubs" comes on.

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