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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Emotional Cost of SPED

For the last week and a half, I had the opportunity to spend 6 days in a resource room for exceptional students. I  had planned some other things for this week in light of Easter arriving next weekend but decided there were some things that I really wanted to say and share with all of you. For the next week, I will be sharing my thoughts and feeling with you regarding these students.

Special Education (SPED) or Exception Student Services (ESS)? What difference does it make in what we call something? I noticed a trend in my textbook, many people are looking for a politically correct way to label someone or something but does changing the name really make the stigma of the label less?

I was hoping that during my time with these students that I would see a change in attitudes toward them. That they would some how now be included as inclusion dictates. Instead, I saw the same thing I did when I was growing up, only it seemed worse to me somehow. 

Perhaps it is the fact that I am a mom of two special needs children, perhaps it is my own feelings of powerlessness as I prepare my one son to enter the world of special education, or maybe it was the fact that for a week, these were MY kids. And they were hurting.

I spent time with my kids in the general education room. I snuck into the back of the room and quietly blended into the walls. I asked the teacher not to announce me or to even acknowledge my presence. I wanted the class to continue as it normally would. I wanted to be a fly on the wall.

Then I wanted to cry.

I saw the teacher ask two normal kids to help one of my. They literally argued in front of her who was going to "deal with her now." I watched as her para did not to assist. She was so used to this treatment that she simply wandered away. She seemed lost in a crowd, included but separate.

In another class, I watched how my student literally broke down in tears because he couldn't get it. He was so hurt and embarrassed that he threw his book across the room and ran out growling.

In another class, I watched as one of my kids sat quietly copying a neighbor's work. He was allowed to be part of the group unlike my first student but he was simply their shadow, he was never fully engaged.

This is only the story of 3 of the 21 students I had the opportunity to work with. The anxiety and pressure on them is overwhelming. When they walk into the doors of the resource room they come alive. It is like a spring that has popped and they are bubbling over.

My lost little girl comes for a hug. She just needs to know she is loved and shares a story she told herself in class. She wanted to know if she used her new vocabulary I taught her well. She didn't but I told her it was a great story anyways.

My angry, crying kid comes in with a tough attitude. He acts as if nothing can get to him and is looking to fight. He is safe here, here he is excepted so he is locked and loaded. I come by and tell him I am proud of what he has done and rub his back as I walk by. He melts and a hint of a smile appears.

My shadow is alive and full of energy. He is standing on his chair to see if he can reach the ceiling. He is teasing his classmates, modeling the attention he receives in the general education room. He doesn't want to focus and work. He wants to talk and participate. He has a joke for everything he doesn't know. He is seeking attention and thinks this is the only way to get it. I put a plastic spider on his shoulder, a pet to keep him company. His new "pet" helps him pass today's spelling test. The next day, he appears in class with a spider sticker on his shoulder.

Every day is the same for these kids. They are so brave to come to school each day knowing that how they want to be treated and how they are treated will never be the same. The emotional costs are astronomical but the teachers seem unaware.

Do you have a child in your class who is paying too much to attend? How can you help him/her?

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At April 1, 2012 at 5:47 AM , Blogger Amy said...

I am so glad I am not the only one to feel this exact same way!!! I love being a special educator and I desperately want inclusion to work, but I have not seen it so far! I see what your seeing and it breaks my heart, I want to keep them in the resource room with me where we are all loving and accepting yet the law says I have to send them out there to deal with the "real world". It's so hard to know what is better, ideally inclusion would be something much different than it is, but you know I think it does resemble the "real world" - will these kids ever truly be accepted??? It's breaking my heart everyday! Thanks for this post - I totally relate!
The Resource(ful) Room

At April 1, 2012 at 7:49 AM , Blogger mrs.moricz said...

Misty I really appreciate your post. I wish you could be a fly in my classroom to see what happens when inclusion does work. I have a large number of students who need support in Math. I teach a 4th grade Math/Science Core. I have known our special ed teacher for some time, so when we started looking at what our kids would need this year, we knew that pull out for them wasn't the answer. Instead she co-teaches with me in the morning with the help of a teaching assistant. We intermingle our kids, but each kid is held accountable for what they need to learn. We differentiate on the fly. Between the three of us, it works. Our kids are flourishing. They still have some set backs but when they do the rest of the class chips in to help them figure it out. There is a team atmosphere in my room where they feel the need to help everyone succeed. It is a truly special group. Some of my kids have done so well that they are no longer classified for needing services, but we continue to support their learning as needed. My co-teacher will pull them for additional support and review or sometimes when we know they need a smaller environment for testing. Sometimes I am the one to pull them while she supports the other students. I also teach the other end of the spectrum as I am also the extended math teacher. Their needs are unique as well, but I don't have assistance during that time. I know my classroom is not the norm and I do worry about them as they move into their middle school years. It is my goal for my students to feel as safe and secure as when they go to the resource room. It takes collaboration and the belief that all kids have something valuable to contribute regardless of their label.

At April 1, 2012 at 8:10 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes me sad to hear about the suffering of your students and more personally your own children. I have not shared that experience in my inclusion classrooms. I think that the Individual in the IEP should always be considered. A custom plan for each student should be about meeting their needs and not pushing inclusion to their deficit. A neighboring elementary in my district has pushed inclusion this way and created many negative behaviors that might have been avoided with a more balanced program. My high functioning LD students thrive in the gen ed classroom where they are playing catchup with curriculum they were unable to access before they qualified for special education. With the support of my team, these students are getting access to the full range of curriculum and experiences along with their peers. They are pulled out when necessary and we push in when we can.
I have been able to prepare many students for mainstream with support in middle school. They no
longer qualify for modified state exams which would negatively impact their high school graduation. My
students may not be as severly impacted by their learning differences as your students. Again, the individual must be considered before the educational fad of the day. I hope that this provided another view of inclusion but did not offend your efforts to proved the children in your life with what they need. Sorry for the anonymous, but I wanted to be more candid in my response. Keep up the good fight.

At April 1, 2012 at 1:38 PM , Blogger Angela said...

I teach in an inclusion school where the special needs population ranges from medically fragile/non-verbal, to mentally delayed down's syndrome to high-functioning autism to "typical" students who need reading support. I love teaching in such a diverse environment. It is truly wonderful to put into practice "the world as we would like to see it" in our small, neighborhood school. Of course I see students struggling academically and with emotional needs, but I also see a population of "typical" students who are learning to successfully and harmoniously live in a world where everyone has unique needs and behaviors.

What it sounds like might be the most challenging in your school is that the environment is not fostering a sense of belonging for the special needs students. Teachers may not have the resources to accommodate and, without that support, they are fostering a sense of frustration with special needs students that they are then modeling to their own students. I think our teachers need better education of how to accommodate and appreciate more unique special needs. It should be a requirement that even general ed teachers take special ed classes to obtain teaching certification. With funding being cut at astronomical rates, even non-inclusion schools are teaching a population of students with special needs in their gen ed classrooms. Without education, training, and SUPPORT, these teachers are feeling overwhelmed having to meet the needs of children that do not fit into the range of students they can successfully differentiate to. As a result, special needs kids are being labeled as inappropriately placed and as "behavior issues". I don't have constructive advice on how to change this in your school, but I would definitely start with bringing this up to your Climate Committee. While this will not better prepare the teachers to support the special needs students, it can help foster a more nurturing and accepting environment in the school for the students who are feeling judged or left out or unappreciated.

Your heart is in the right place. I'm so glad you're posting your feelings about this!

At April 1, 2012 at 2:46 PM , Blogger Erika said...

Wow, Misty, what a great post. It made me want to cry and laugh. Those kids were lucky to have you for that short time. BTW, tag you are it!

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At April 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM , Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thanks for this post. It's a gentle reminder to all of us that we need to take special care making sure that all students reach their full potential. I currently have five kiddos in my room with IEPs. I have to inclusion teachers who I work with that are awesome. I've learned a lot this year and hope to continue to learn more. Keep working as hard as you do...and keep your chin up :)

Fun in Room 4B

At April 2, 2012 at 6:27 AM , Blogger Emmy de Greslan said...

I appreciate reading every one's views on inclusive education. I've just started my Inclusive Education course and I have to admit, it seems overwhelming. But it is a relief to know there are teachers like you who will make it a priority to look after these kiddies.

Daydreams of a Student Teacher

At April 2, 2012 at 8:28 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

I am so happy to hear that it can work. Out of my entire class of 18 student teachers, 1 of us was in an environment where inclusion truly works for the benefit of all. It is sad that it is not reversed where only 1 of us experienced what I did.

At April 2, 2012 at 8:29 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

No worries about the anonymous! I appreciate all of your thoughts and comments on this. I learn so much from all of my blogging friends.

At April 2, 2012 at 8:31 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

I am a general education major and am required to take a special education course. I am so glad that it was part of my curriculum as it is amazing how much is expected of general education teachers and most do not have the training. My instructor suggested that all teachers should be dual certified in special education and general education. What are your thoughts on this?

At April 2, 2012 at 8:32 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

UGH! Tag -- really!?? I will try to add it in next week.

At April 2, 2012 at 8:33 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

5 kiddos with IEPs is a lot! I was told that federal law states that we cannot have more than 10% of our class being special needs as it has to match the general population. That would mean you teach 50 students! Is this typical for you to have so many IEPs?

At April 2, 2012 at 8:34 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

Thanks Emmy! I just completed my course obviously. I wrote my blog to detail my adventures and chart my course along the way. Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

At April 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM , Blogger Think, Wonder, & Teach said...

I am so happy to hear that I am not alone in my feelings!


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