My 3rd Year in Teaching Special Education Commences

A new school year hath begun. Thankfully, this year portends to be dramatically different then my last 2 years of 5th grade special education teaching in the S. Bronx have been. This difference is largely attributable to a change in setting: I’ve been shifted from a self-contained classroom to an inclusion classroom. On top of this, I have more experience now — even though it sometimes doesn’t feel like it — and I have a co-teacher to help alleviate the burden. I am also no longer taking Master’s classes during the week. All of this has converged to provide an experience that is substantially less stressful and emotionally/physically devastating.

Realizing just how big a difference in challenge the change in special education setting really is, it makes me all the more appalled that we send our most inexperienced educators into classrooms with the students with the greatest needs. It’s a disservice to new teachers, but more importantly, it’s a disservice to our students.

But such is the crash course into the dire reality that exists at the core of a loosely run and obesely large educational system. I’ve gained a newfound depth of respect for the public educators and social service workers who are out there in the trenches everyday doing their best to carve out spaces of safety and sanity for children with exceptional learning needs. And I’ve gained a newfound respect for the families and children that live under conditions that test their strength of character and resolve in ways unfathomable to those who have not struggled with the chronic and acute stress of poverty combined with learning challenges. I’ve learned that we have to be simultaneously systematic and radical in our approaches to working within these conditions. Rigorous and flexible. Unwavering, yet relaxed. Loving, and firm. In short — tight-wire balanced. Kind of like running barefoot.

My goals this year for my school:

  • Push for democratically appointed grade level team leaders who will act as a liason between the team and the administration (distributed leadership)
  • Leverage grade level teams to develop curriculum collaboratively on the Google Docs infrastructure I set up last year
I’m leaving it at that this year, because I’ve realized that less is more when it comes to trying to implement change within a school. The marathon battle begins.

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

2 thoughts on “My 3rd Year in Teaching Special Education Commences”

  1. Mark, you have excellent goals for the school year. I hope that as the team builds curriculum, please keep in mind that the skills you want the students to master become the vehicle to drive your 21st century curriculum. Too often we focus on content and themes and not really focus on skills. Students with special needs deserve a 21st century curriculum just as much as mainstream students. Thank you for the hard work you do to help our kids.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I agree that skills are essential to focus upon as we draft our curriculum. We must bear in mind, however, that those skills must be grounded in deep academic content. 21st century skills mean nothing unless they amplify and build upon a curriculum that is structured systematically upon coherent content. But I agree that students with exceptional learning needs, most especially, require a focus on production and collaborative skills utilizing media literacy, as their abilities to listen, speak, and interact with one another through technology in creative, innovative ways are so often ignored in the face of their basic academic disabilities.

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