Confessions of a special educator
As a veteran with over a decade of experience in special education, I can comfortably say that it’s all about a package of love, compassion, and connection. Said, it’s about everyday life.
I trained to teach students who have to learn differences (LD) and students who have emotional and behavioural disorders (EBD). Why ‘have’? Don’t you and I have needs?
I will write a personal journal that summarizes my misadventures later. Here are some honest not-so-textbook pointers I wish someone had clued me in before I started.
The 7 Commandments
1. The circle – your team is your biggest supporter, critique, and the ones who might pull you down. Yes, it comes as a pack of opposites. You will be loaded with work that has nothing to do with your signed job contract. The additional responsibilities might turn into a black hole with your team. Wait, don’t cry your heart to anyone; there is always someone lurking who will twist and turn your heartfelt statements. Take time to build yourself, and don’t try to prove a point; it might be misinterpreted as snooty. Allow yourself to showcase your work. Trust is built with the team, and mentors establish lifelong relationships. Do not be the person with bee’s knees. I have learned equipoise, and being steady sets the example of balance for students.
2. Scheduling will become a nightmare– paperwork and meetings will waste your time. Timetables, lesson plans, IEPs, ITPs, reports – monthly, quarterly, yearly, and numerous administrative-related forms take precedence. Garnish all this with regular messages to parents or guardians. If you manage social media, then that’s an added task. None of this is meant to discourage you, and it’s just something I was unaware of as I went in. The key is to manage it well. Maintain a detailed calendar and be open to change. Having a structure gives increased productivity and gives students a sense of certainty.
3. Your lesson plans might go differently than planned- as excellent as you think your goals are, when it comes to actuals, you will have to make, improvise, break down, and remake. Print them, pin them, just don’t let them make you feel bad for not adhering to them. Be ready for meltdowns and washroom demands. This does not tarnish your dedication. This is the exact time to appreciate your co-educators and assistants. They are always the glue to the learning group. Make use of student assistants. Their comedic relief can quickly turn any problematic moment into a laugh riot. I figure out my strategies to cater to multiple learning styles.
4. Increase your range – ask for help, take suggestions, and build networks. Choose your support team- co-educators, mentors, counsellors, assistants, parents, and extended fraternity. There is no way I could have done this all by myself. Many people in this field are doing excellent work that you might struggle with. Ask for help. Discuss cases, share your struggles, invite them to your sessions, email them, and get a hold of them if need be. Their suggestion and advice can be the answer you are looking for. You will be surprised to see how many uplifting and encouraging people you will meet on your journey. I consider taking guidance to enhance my connections with students.
5. The policies and rules cease making sense- there will be policies about everything. There will be deadlines staring at you. Dress code, reporting time, use of mobile phones, screen time, bathroom breaks, and your on-the-minute breaks. There are rules for reasons, rules that change, and rules that make no sense. I let them be; I follow as much as I must; it keeps me out of trouble. Sometimes it’s just plain silly to ask a student to sit still. Don’t fear turning in a blank answer sheet if a student has severe intellectual issues. Testing policies will seem weird; they go against the idea of individual growth. There is not much you can do; remember, there is a lot you can do.
6. Parents can sometimes be challenging to deal with – in your career, you will most definitely encounter a parent who, despite all the intelligence and training, will tear you down. They can say things that might intimidate you, sometimes on purpose, to make you feel of lesser value. They might make comparisons with other teachers. They will negate any other image if they have a fixed vision of their ward. They will influence you, challenge your choice, give input, or contradict you. Do not allow the feeling of let down steep you. Parents are the first caregivers; accept this. They have struggles, allow a little grievance, and remind them you are a team with them. Make them see little steps of progress instead of exponential progress. I have come across some of the best parents and proudly acknowledge them in my friend circle. The secret is to step back when the parent steps in. Attend training with them, discuss home regimes and plans, and meet them outside of work scenes. They must find confidence in you to entrust their ward with you.
7. Take a health day – besides the assigned leaves, I think a mental health day off should be mandatory. You don’t have to be physically unwell to take off, and most of all, never lie about taking off. When you have been going non-stop, it weighs you down, and you cannot be as effective as you are capable. Do whatever it takes to relax – sleep in, complete a few pending errands, be lazy in bed, get a massage, watch your favourite show or movie, spend time with friends or family, walk around – do it. You deserve this much. For me, a visit to a bookstore is cathartic.
The passion fuels my desire to better myself without letting the flame die. I know this sounds idealistic, but one must try. I involve myself in community projects and hobby circles, upgrade my knowledge and skills, practice Yoga, and attend enriching events. Moments of joy and unbridled kindness make everything worthwhile.
I am humbled -I am a part of stories many will never hear of. I am grateful – I have found my purpose. I am blessed – to see the goodness in small things.
Excellent 👌 well written article
A pleasurable read. Thanks for sharing this with me Radha. Keep writing and sharing.