To Special Educators, I quote Kate's mommy, "Finally, and most important. If you do not LOVE your students. If you do not refer to them as , MY KIDS, then leave the profession. It is not for you."
Dear Special Education Teacher
Guest Blog From Shanell Mouland
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Dear Special Education Teacher,
I know you, I am you. I was you, at least. And then Kate was born. Before Kate there was Grace. Little miss 'easy child'. She had some health problems but cognitively and socially she was a dream child. She spoke early. She could converse before her second birthday. She was, and is, the type of child that we could take to fancy restaurants and the other patrons would almost always comment: "She's so good, how old is she?" or "My, she speaks so well." and we would pat ourselves on the back for being excellent parents.
Kate was a little different. She started speaking later and with difficulty. She got agitated. It was more difficult when we went out to restaurants. Or if we did, it could be an adventure. Our Kate was a firecracker and we loved her just as much but we knew something was different. So, what happened to our excellent parenting skills? After months and months of questions we finally got our answer. Kate had autism. This was definitely going to take those excellent parenting skills we thought we had.
I am a resource teacher or what you might call a special education teacher. I work in a province with a full inclusion policy. There are no special education rooms, so to speak. All of our students enter the mainstream classroom. So, in truth, every teacher in this province is a special education teacher. I spend my days working with kids just like Kate. I thought I was a good teacher before Kate. I wonder now if I can ever be as good as I would like to be. My standards for myself and others who teach kids with special needs are so high now. How will I ever be good enough? This is what I want the old me to know (If you are a teacher you might want to take note):
1. Every child in your room is somebody's baby. That child is adored by someone. They have hopes and dreams for that child. Show some respect.
2. The only person that can speak with any kind of authority about a child with special needs is the parent of the child. They are the true experts. You will NOT find the crucial information in a book.
3. If the mom's and dad's appear tired/cranky/short/fed up, it is because they are. They advocate all day long and when they are meeting with you about an IEP/SEP they need you at your best. Move mountains to give them what they want.
4. Please build you lessons to the needs of the individual child. Make them appropriate to the child's interests. Allow the child dignity. DO NOT SAY, "He is a two year old in a twelve year old's body." This is called infantizing and it is not ok.
5. Make sure you are aware of the culture of your school. Does the staff value diversity? Are the children that you work with included as much as possible? Make the necessary changes.
6. I know you are under-paid, over-tired, under-appreciated, and over-worked. Don't let the kids know this. They are not the problem. The adults always screw it up for the children. You know what I mean.
7. Understand that when a child has special needs the effort it might take to navigate through a day can be overwhelming. The world can seem harsh and foreign. Be a safe and gentle part of their world.
8. These children DO NOT need tough love to learn to manage sensory overload. Many of the children with the most severe deficits in communication and mobility already experience adversity on a daily basis. They will not learn to manage loud noises/crowds/scratchy clothing etc because you are consistent with exposing them. They will always feel pain associated with these sensory issues and you will only succeed in making them more afraid of your criticisms than the pain itself. If I could throw this type of teacher inside a speaker at an outdoor concert this summer, I would! It hurts, doesn't it?
9. Please don't roll your eyes at a therapy/treatment/diagnosis you do not understand. Once you have read peer-reviewed research on said topic, you can comment. You don't know more because you have been teaching for so many years. The world is changing. The classroom is changing. You need to change too.
10. Finally, and most important. If you do not LOVE your students. If you do not refer to them as , MY KIDS, then leave the profession. It is not for you. I have yet to meet a teacher that does not take ownership, in the most loving way, of their students. Thank goodness for that.