Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Walking in each other's shoes: Understanding the Special Education Teacher

Wow! Summer is flying by and with this whole Periscope whirlwind, my brain is racing more and more about everything school! I seriously can not sleep at night because of all my ideas! Anyone else relate to this?
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I seriously wish that my brain had an off switch so I could turn it on and off. My husband thinks I'm crazy. I guess that's what passionate people do though! We OBSESS over every detail of what we do because we are passionate. Speaking of passion...one of the many things I am passionate about is COLLABORATION! I love to help others, lend ideas, get their ideas, and work together. #2getherwearebetter right? Having worked in Special Education for 5 years, and having my fair share of issues with general education teachers (typically  my fault), I learned A LOT. 

So, this is part one of two on what Special Education and General Education teachers need to know about each other and each other's jobs in order to collaborate EFFECTIVELY for the good of ALL students! But before I begin, let me say, this is not an attack on anyone; sped or gen ed. These are just some tips so that we can understand each other. 

So, here we go with some tips that SPED teachers wished you knew! 

When we as teachers compare students, it can be a very slippery slope. On one hand, we have to compare students to each other to see where they are falling in our class. However, when we begin to do this, we can fall into a trap. One thing I have seen in my district as both a special education teacher and as a 1st grade teacher is that our kids might look 'low' to us but when placed against national norms, they are not. Let me explain. We are not CCSS in Texas but do have our own state objectives that are very rigorous. Our district takes those standards and bumps up the rigor and the expectation for our students. So, a student in my first grade class might look 'low' compared to my district expectations but if they were to get a SPED evaluation, they would be on level compared to the nationally normed diagnostic tests and protocols. So, as a Special Education teacher, we need a general education teacher to look at each student against national norms and see where the student falls and make recommendations based on that knowledge. Otherwise it seems as if you are just trying to push difficult kids out of your class and into ours. 

We, as special education teachers know that we are not always available but we want NEED you to ask questions! We want you to know that we are here to help you and help you understand what all the paperwork is and what it means. We don't know that you don't understand or need help if you don't ask! PLEASE ASK! Also, with that, if you ask us a question in the hall, email it to us also. It is so hard to remember things asked of us in the hall or lounge or duty because we have 1,000,000,000,000,000 other things we are thinking about: 15 thousand lesson plans, schedules, behaviors, paras, paperwork, meetings, difficult and often delusional parents, sped coordinators, behavior specialists, and the list goes on and on. 

My first year in Resource I had 30  kids on my caseload. When I went self contained, I had 8-10. Most resource and inclusion teachers have 25+ and most have upside of 40 kids. All of these kids have individualized plans that WE develop along with the lesson plans that go with them. They don't look like anyone else in gen ed or in sped...that's what makes it an IEP-individualization. That being said, often times we don't have a planning period to do these things. Planning is often taken up by a behaviors, ARD/IEP meeting, staffings, etc. We don't have a 'master schedule' that we follow like the rest of the school does. If we can't figure a way out to schedule a planning time, we just don't do it. Most times we eat lunch during a lesson too. We manage paras and create their schedules, micromanage them and teach them everything we know because if we don't we have to clean up behind them. No offense to paras but it's our teaching certificate on the line since we're the teacher of record. 
We have paperwork like you wouldn't believe! Not only do we have all the IEPs to create on our own, data to take, training of other teachers, we also have to get with OT, PT, APE, Auditory/Visual support staff, Speech, Psychologists, coordinators, and parents to schedule everything. The last two years I was in a self contained class, we also took data on all students in SPED so that the district could receive Medicaid funding. That was a NIGHTMARE!!! Then there is the state assessment that is a joke that our kids are required to take. For many years in Texas, the SPED teachers created the test, taught the material on top of the child's IEP goals and had to turn in the data to the state. Heaven forbid you get audited like I did! Then you have even more to do! Then there is extended school year services and you have to prep 6+ weeks of work for them to do at summer school! All that to say, please understand if we forget something. Show us grace because after we have taught all day, often times getting hit, spit on, kicked, and slapped, we have to go home to our families and do that job. So, show us some grace. Please. 

One thing that I have been lucky enough to NOT experience is other teachers looking down on me. However, when I've spoken to other SPED teachers, they tend to get spoken to condescendingly as if they too have a disability. The amount of training that SPED teachers go through is EXTENSIVE. Generally, more extensive than the gen ed teacher. So, when you speak to us in ways that demean us or make less of our jobs than what they are, it infuriates us. Just as we don't appreciate you speaking down to us, don't do it to the kids on our caseload. Remember, they are your kids too and you need to speak to them in a VOICE that is age appropriate with WORDS that are developmentally appropriate. Just because the 12 year old functions like a 2 year old does not mean you or anyone should talk to them like a two year old. 

We need you to be positive. Please see the amazing gains that these kids experience and demonstrate instead of just seeing the deficits that they have. Everyone knows the deficits. Lots of times they are GLARINGLY obvious. A great teacher looks past the deficits and searches for the accomplishments. They look differently. You may have to look long and hard but please talk about the great things you see in them because often times, you see a different kid than we do. We want to hear about that! 
Be flexible with us and them. Often times they can't handle things but we are pushing them to try. We ask that you try too. Don't be afraid of them. They are kids just like the rest of the little people you teach. The way we react to them teaches our 'normal' kiddos how to respond as well. 

All in all, we need your support and grace. We are not perfect and we are going to mess up... A LOT. It is easiest to extend grace to you when we know we will receive grace as well. We truly are #2togetherwearebetter . 

Do you as a SPED teacher have some tips? What about gen ed do you want SPED teachers to know? I'd love for you to leave comments so I can include them in PART TWO: Understanding the general education teacher!

Thank you for all you do for kids across the world. 




  1. Great blog post! It would be nice to work together to help the student succeed in the general ed. class, so let us know if something isn't working. Also, we have outside interests and would love to chat at lunch or after school.

    1. Thank you! I would love NOTHING more than to work collaboratively together but our jobs and different experiences get in the way all too often. I love when someone says to me, hey, lets go to Chili's and have some chips and salsa and discuss little Johnny! Great idea!

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