Monday, April 30, 2012

Easy Street--Part I

"You are an absolute saint for what you do."
"God bless you, Miss T., because I don't know how you do it."

It's not uncommon to hear such praise and lauding from friends and family who learn of the population with which I work, or a neighboring teacher who catches me giving a run-of-the-mill discipline lecture outside of my classroom in my most patient but firm tone of voice.  The sentiments come much appreciated, particuarly when I become so entrenched in my job that I forget that it is outside the realm of normalcy for a public school teacher (yes, I've actually forgotten that my students are considered "weird" by most standards).

But, lately, I've begun to ponder if such kind words are undeserved. What's more, should I be the one bestowing them on others--namely the teachers with the normal population?

I just may be inclined to believe that when you put my job side-by-side with that of a typical middle school regular education teacher, I've got it infinitely easier.  Here's just 5 of the reasons why...

1) The evils of Inclusion:
Whoever masterminded the idea of Least Restrictive Environment for students with disabilities, clearly never experienced the joy of teaching a science class of 30 students, 5 of whom are diagnosed with some form of emotional disorder or pervasive ADHD disorder.  My personal instructional classes can get a bit batty when Joe Schmo has shut down and Sally Sue is crying and Billy Bob has forgotten to take his medication.  But, I have the luxury of bringing my class to a halt until I've got functioning students again.  For a regular education teacher with no aide, there's still obligation to 25 other little brains.  Oh, yeah, and you still may have to answer for that "F" you gave Joe Schmo even though he didn't do a darn thing in class. 

2) Academic freedom:
While collaboration and team work and all that stuff valued by the Professional Learning Community is fantastic, it often gets taken to the extreme when teacher teams feel bound to teach the material in an identical manner, at an identical pace, with an identical test taken on an identical day.  Then, there's the recent roll out of the Common Core teaching standards which will soon become the material of standardized testing, and is so specific and rigorous in nature that it is bound to quickly fill every teaching moment of the school year with non-negotiable and requirec content.  Whatever happened to the days when Mr. Jones could throw an extra day into the Tom Sawyer unit to come to class in the character of Mark Twain and let the kids interview him?

Now, it's not to say that my little island of students is immune to school and federal policy, but as an instructional special education class, it's sort of a given that we are going to take our own routes to the same destination.  We'll stay on the same lesson 5 days in a row if we have to, and if yoga or a dance off or spending the whole class speaking in different accents seems a necessity, well by golly...My room is where Academic Freedom comes to party.

3) Isolation--the good kind
There's nothing like the delightful solitude that comes when you are left alone by administrators, fellow teachers, other students--pretty much everyone.  Remember your school days when the BD kids were banished to the basement or the untraversed wing of the building--a mystery and enigma to the masses?  Well, that's not us exactly.  Sure we've adoringly nicknamed our windowless room-formerly-known-as-a-closet "The Cave" or "The Dungeon" or "Hell".  But, it's got a rightful spot in the same hall as the normal classes and, by all appearances, is just a mini-me version of the other classrooms (minus any glimpse of daylight). 

Still, at times, I wonder if it is only visible to those who need it (a la the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter), and I have to say I like it.  It's a little bit of a terrifying realization that I could be alternating my days playing "Twister" and reciting Mother Goose rhymes to the kids without anyone ever knowing the better (and it sounds like a whole lot of that was going on in here prior to my hiring), but since I'm actually working my butt off, being left alone makes me feel very confident, self-assured, and self-sufficient. 

Recently, Annie inquired with our principal how some of the sweeping changes in the school would affect our classroom and program next year.  Mr. Principal responded, with arms open and shaking head, "We just want you and Ms. T. to keep doing what you're doing."

If ever words were music to my ears...

[Stay tuned for Part 2 of the List]

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Made It

I'm pretty stoked.

Two Fridays from now, after my work day is done, I'll be getting all gussied up, heading over to the local country club and enjoying a $50 meal at no expense to me, and schmoozing with both the big wigs and my induction "class" in honor of my impending tenure. It feels equally awesome and surreal.

[We'll omit, for the time being, the fact that tenure is about to lose much of its significance in the state of Illinois and will probably be eradicated all together within the next five years. Let me have my moment of glory, gosh darn it.]

There were plenty of moments in the first two years at my current job that I feared my every move held the potential to get me fired. It's just common knowledge in the teaching community that you lay low and don't make any mistakes those first four years, because schools are within their right to let you go if you so much as look at an administrator the wrong way. No justification is needed for employee release prior to tenure.

But, I gained boatloads of confidence and reassurance heading into my 3rd year that I was wanted and proficient in my role, and for the past year or so, as life has roller-coastered a bit around me, the job has become sort of a given--an assumed part of my every day existence.

I fear I've started to take it for granted. Can it be that, amidst financial turmoil and economic chaos, with unemployment rates soaring and hardly any teaching positions open for my newly graduated/graduating friends, that I have forgotten just how blessed I am to wake up to a job each and every day? And what's more, a job that I actually enjoy? It wasn't so long ago I absolutely dreaded the morning alarm and another unpredictable day in the school from hell. Though I promised myself 4 years ago I never would, have I lost sight of how good I've got it here?

That little "T" next to my name on the evaluation list will make it less likely that this privilege will be taken from me (not that it has been all that likely up until now, anyways), but more importantly I think it will be a good reminder that I'm right where I'm supposed to be with little thanks to me. Sure I've put in the hard work and passion to get this far, but in many ways I feel like I don't deserve much credit at all.

Ten years ago, when I first decided I wanted to go into special education, the LAST sub-group I imagined I'd want to teach was these kiddos. Yet, here I am, feeling like the perfect job was dropped into my lap, constantly waving off exclamations of others to the effect of, "It takes a special person to do this job. God bless you!" Yeah, I honestly don't see it that way. I'm not really sure what else I'd be doing at this point.

So, did I earn the accolades? I suppose. But I'm of the mind that nothing that ever happens to us is truly in our control. So, there's nothing else that I can choose to be but grateful.