To General Education Teachers, From Your Colleague Down the Hall
Dear General Education Teacher,
Let me take a minute to introduce myself and my class. Even though we have worked down the hallway from each other for years, we have both been so busy that we never got a chance for a proper introduction. I am a special education teacher. Similar to you, I teach academics, write lesson plans, deal with challenging behavior, have parent meetings, go to Professional Developments, and deal with a mountain of paperwork and assessments. Because we have both been so busy, I want to clear up a few misconceptions about my job and my class.
I teach academics too. My students might not academically be on the same level as their grade level peers but they are still working hard on language arts, math, science, and social studies at their individualized level. Some of my students might need more breaks and shorter work sessions to get through their tasks. We use assessments and data to plan our curriculum and instruction just like your class.
Just because I have more help than you doesn’t mean my job is easier. Sometimes you might glance in my classroom as you are walking down the hallway and see four adults. You might be a little envious of that extra support. I know your job is challenging just like mine. The extra adults help give my students the individualized instruction they need. Whole group or even sometimes small group instruction doesn’t always work with my students. The added adults in my classroom make academic and functional learning possible for my kids. It isn’t a bonus – it’s a necessity.
I’m not inflexible to be a pain, I’m advocating for my students. You may have had a weird encounter with me within the last few years. It might have left a weird taste in your mouth and you probably walked away thinking, “dang that teacher is a diiiiva.” Maybe you asked me if we could switch gym class periods for the day because of your testing schedule and I said no. Maybe you saw me throwing a small tantrum in the principal’s office because one of my paraprofessionals was out and there was no substitute. Maybe you’ve seen me march down to the office each and every school picture day and have them switch my scheduled time.
I promise you I’m not being a jerk. I’m not thinking my class is more important than anyone else’s. In those moments, I was advocating for my students. I was advocating from my students who can’t talk or can’t express their wants, need, and frustrations well. I was advocating for my students who have extreme difficulty with change, novel events, and overwhelming sensory situations. I was advocating for their best interests to keep them happy, calm and feeling safe. I was advocating for consistent schedules and routines that help my students feel secure, comfortable, and decrease anxiety. I was advocating for my kids just like you advocate for yours.
I’d love for our classrooms to work together more. As a special education teacher, I sometimes feel left out. Our students may be working on different skills, so collaboration just doesn’t happen as naturally. I know you are busy planning for your own classroom as well as organizing special events like pep rallies, spelling bees, dances, committees, field trips, class parties, and so much more. Invite my class to special events. Please. It would mean the world to me. We won’t always be able to say yes. Some special events may be too challenging for some of my kids. But please keep asking. There will special activities that will be a great fit for some of my kids.
I’d love to learn from you. I’d love for my classroom to look more like yours. If you are doing a cool project or monthly theme, let me know. I’d love to learn how you are teaching that concept and see if there is a way I can incorporate that in my classroom. I’d also love for you to learn about my classroom. I often feel like I am on an island all alone. Ask me what my students are working on. I am an expert in the world of data collection and behavior management and I may be able to share a helpful tip or two for your class.
Your students might not know how to interact with my students. That’s OK. They are kids. Teach them about my class. Teach them about how we are all different. Teach them that differences aren’t scary. Model for your students how to interact with my class. When you walk down the hallway and pass my class, say hi. Learn my students’ names. Be the positive role model that your students need to learn how to engage with my kids.
You may have seen some challenging behavior go down in the hallway or at the playground. Maybe a student was aggressive. It’s OK to feel scared or uneasy about seeing aggression. Please ask me about it later. Ask me if I am OK and if the student is OK. Ask me what you should do in the future if you see that happening again. Your interest and concern is beyond appreciated. Asking shows that you want to learn more. All behavior is communication – even aggression. I’d love to share with you what my student was trying communicate and how we are working on teaching more functional behaviors. Please keep any judgments or opinions to yourself; it’s easy to make quick assumptions like “he shouldn’t be in this school” or “that is unacceptable.” Important details that you are unaware of like medication and home life factors may impact behavior in a big way.
Our students are all members of this school community. Giving your students the opportunity to have meaningful relationships with my students will create more empathetic, inclusive, creative, flexible and understanding adults. These will be the kind of adults that change the world. These will be the kind of adults that make our community better for everyone. These relationships start with you and I. When we can work together and be a united force, all of our students benefit. This year, I am looking forward to working alongside with you towards this goal. It was nice to finally have this formal introduction.
a Special Education Teacher
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo by Monkey Business Images.