Have you ever had a 12th grade student rush into your classroom and hide in a dusty corner, far away from the door, until the bell rang? When this happened six years ago, my first thoughts were that Carl (alias) was being bullied; but this was wrong. Most of his classes were in a co-taught setting, and English was his only class where all students were receiving special education services. Carl was embarrassed. I said all of the teacher-y things to boost his self esteem, but at the end of his senior year, the situation had not changed.
While drinking chai and nibbling on cupcakes, I realized, just like Carl, I’ve been hiding in the corner throughout my teaching career; and I’m finally ready to come out into the sun. In speaking with other Special Education teachers, the identity issue is not isolated or new. This knowledge alone, makes me feel somewhat better. At the same time, there is a three-step, simple cure for the Special Education Identity Crisis.
Recognize when you are not being true to yourself.
A couple of years ago, a Special Education Science teacher asked me if I thought we should be labeled as Special Education teachers in the yearbook. He elaborated, I teach science, I should be in the section with the science teachers (as opposed to our current format which puts special education teachers on a separate page, distant from the ‘content’ teachers). Part of me judged him; but truly, my actions suggest the same attitudes. For example, when I participate in twitter chats #aplitchat and #cwpchat, I identify myself as an English teacher. This is the truth. I teach English. However, I purposefully omit the specific detail that I am a Special Education teacher. Thinking on this, I could write endless examples of times I have felt conflicted as a SPED teacher, and I could offer many reasons why—but that is part of my personal journey. It is enough here to simply recognize I have not been true to myself.
Acknowledge who you want to be as a teacher.
In order to be who you want to be, you have be able to say it out loud. I want to be a GREAT teacher. (Whew! That was hard). I am a Special Education teacher for a reason. I can empathize and identify with students who struggle to succeed, to express themselves, and to continually re-motivate day after day. This means, I obviously have to be an expert with English content, but likewise, I need to be an expert with addressing the multiple needs of every student in the classroom. Therefore, I want to be a GREAT ENGLISH SPECIAL EDUCATION teacher.
Take immediate steps to change.
The last step, while being the most important, should also be the easiest. What steps are necessary to become the teacher you want to be for yourself and your students? I am starting this blog in the hopes of connecting to other Special Education teachers and creating dialogues about the continuous challenges of navigating the hurdles placed in front of SPED teachers (and students).
As teachers, the reflective process helps us improve our craft exponentially. At the same time, it can create doubts in our abilities. While your specific story/struggle might be different than mine, please share your thoughts and also share how you can make immediate changes.