Back in the olden days, when I first began teaching, we were told to make friends with the school secretary, the custodian, the nurse, and the cafeteria lady. After all, those were the people who really ran the school, not my fellow teachers or the principal. I followed that advice, and I continue that practice today, though I do include every staff member when it comes to their contribution to running a school.
The secretary knew all the parents, most of the kids, when and where teachers and administration could be reached, and all the important information. The custodian not only cleaned the boards and emptied the trash, but he would move furniture and boxes for you, and if you needed something repaired, even if it wasn’t school property, it was taken care of. The cafeteria lady knew what each teacher liked, and on special days would save extra cookies or the fresher cartons of milk. And who better than the school nurse to have you gargle with warm salt water, slip you a few Tylenol when you’ve had a rough morning, or given you bandages when you chose a busy Monday to break in new shoes.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these people are vital to the functioning of a school. However, I propose that there is one great resource that is untapped in nearly every school building, regardless of the level, whether it be private or public, and that is the Special Education teacher. What you have in that one person, or a whole department in the case of the school where I work, is an untold wealth of knowledge and experience. Yesterday, I announced to the staff of my high school, my new position as coordinator of the Learning Resource Center. The question that arises is, will they take advantage of this (me) resource?
Today, I posted a reminder in our email conference what services I’m offering and how the whole Special Ed. department is shifting our focus to more inclusion with team-teaching situations, and how we’re extending ourselves to create a more proactive environment for all students. I will be the space students come to if they need an alternate test site or assessments read to them. If more one-on-one assistance is needed with an assignment or project, that, too, is a role I’m filling. I’ve offered to modify their assignments and tests to make them more accessible to Special Ed. students. I even left a comment that if they have an idea as to how else I can assist them, that all they need to do is ask.
But I wonder how many will. Before No Child Left Behind, there were ‘good’ Special Ed. teachers and those who weren’t so good. As soon as the words ‘Highly Qualified’ began to float around, I was concerned. Generally, Special Ed. teachers don’t go to teacher college to learn content. We go to learn how to teach, how to adapt curriculum, how to work with difficult kids and parents who are in denial, unrealistic, or supportive. We memorize the laws and practice standing up for our students when some teachers would rather not deal with them. Our vast scope of adaptability, whether in curriculum, physical or emotional environment, is often ignored. General Ed. teachers are usually appreciative when we give them background on particular students and suggestions for success. For the most part, they are willing to abide by the IEP’s and offer accommodations and attend meetings. And all of this is for the support of the student. But what about support of the staff?
Before NCLB, those of us who knew we missed out on curriculum during our college days, attended every professional development workshop we could to brush up on what we had forgotten we’d learned while in school. For most of us, we didn’t attend college to learn content, but rather decided to make a career of teaching. And that act requires often more knowledge than what is covered in Special Ed. 101 or a handful of observation hours in a Special Ed. classroom. There is no one greater, either Special Ed. or General Ed., in terms of knowledge, but rather I suggest it is the combination of both that will ensure the highest success for more students, both those with IEP’s and those without.
I invite you to have lunch with your Special Ed. teacher(s) at your building. Pick their brains on trends in education, changes in state and federal laws, ways to work with a particular student, or suggestions for improving your assessments. You have at your site an untapped resource in the guise of the teacher who has eight kids in her class with an aide and invites you to early morning meetings. Will you be curious enough to ask questions? Secure in your skills as a teacher to reach out for options to alter your curriculum for better accessibility for all students? Or will you continue to not make eye contact with the teacher who works with ‘those kids’? I suppose my building is much like yours, only I’m seeing the issue from the other side of the fence. Outside my door is a sign that says: “Resource Teacher”. And I wonder, how many will take advantage of all I can offer?
Through my years of improving my own content knowledge and what I’ve created for my students, I’ve made available some materials. Visit my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com and decide if how I’ve chosen to alter the curriculum might answer some of your questions, and thus be a resource for you. Leave a comment as to how you have utilized your Special Ed. staff at your school.