Monday, August 5, 2013

Feels Like Starting Over

It's time to spread our wing's and fly,
Don't let another day go by my love,
It'll be just like starting over - starting over,
--John Lennon

              My first time posting in almost a year.  Everything is going pretty good in heathen land.  Strikes and gutterballs.  Sometimes you hit the b'ar; and sometimes, well sometimes, the b'ar hits you.  And so it goes.

              This ends the first year that I have been working as a special education teacher.  The first year of teaching is always the hardest, as they say.  Conventional wisdom states that it takes three years for a teacher to become a good teacher.  The hope is, of course, that I find myself sooner.  But most conscientious school administrators can recognize educators with potential for growth and nurture them until they find the competent educator inside themselves.

              The first major transition I have had to make is from student to student teacher to teacher.  Suddenly, at my end, I am beginning to see things the way my teachers did.  I suddenly can understand why so many teachers used to lose patience with me when I was younger.  It is at a point where I see students misbehaving, I find myself reprimanding them, and I remember that I used to do the same things (or similar) when I was their age.  I find myself of split mind:  the former special education student in me sympathizes with them; the special education teacher in me doesn't.

              One of my many responsibilities as a teacher is networking with parents.  Many of my students are with me because they do not perform well academically.  That is, no matter how bad a disability is, if they can function without special ed services, then one would provide as little as possible.  That is, when I was a kid, the two extremes were "resource room" or "self-contained class".  Nowadays, there is plenty in between.  Some of my students are on their own able to maintain a high GPA; they only need me to help them retain information and then to give them read-alouds on their exams.  But others need a lot more of a push in order to do well.

               And this is the concern most parents have.  "Nothing has worked on my child..."  The unfortunate blunt reality is that you can lead a horse to the water, but you can not make them drink.  If a child does not want to learn, there isn't a whole lot that even the most well-planned lesson can do.  But on the other hand, if the horse sits in front of the water long enough, he just may get thirsty.  Most of my job is not just teaching, but also motivating.  And here is a skill set in which I am not always the most efficacious.  Some are more natural at it than other. 

               My father is currently the business administrator for an institute that provides special ed services.  He has on his desk a picture of me from my special ed days.  I think I was in 5th grade at the time.  I am reading a book about Thomas Edison and have this wily, pensive look on my face.  Sometimes, when he's speaking with a parent, they ask what his qualifications are.  So he points to that picture on his desk and says "I raised him..."   Yes, he raised me.  And that allows him to more than empathize with a parent whose child has disabilities. 

                And conversely, my qualifications:  I've lived with myself.  When I listen to a parent speaking about their child and what they've been through, I think of two things.  I first think about my own personal experience.  Having to be tested, having to sit through tedious annual reviews, triennials, more tests, more shrinks with notepads, and all that good stuff.  It is enough to make anyone feel like a rat in a cage.  And it goes without saying, I couldn't help but feel like all those tests were redundant; all they did was confirm what was already known about me since I was in kindergarten--that I am not normal!

              The second thing I think about is what my parents went through raising me.  Listening to the parents now makes me understand what my parents went through when they were raising me.  On one hand, they wanted to give me the same upbringing every normal Jewish child gets.  On the other hand, it was clear that the school system as it was set up back then would not accommodate.  I was doomed to be relegated to the back of the classroom, getting bad grades, being a constant disturbance to class, and possible delinquency at a young age.  This is what most students of my aptitude ended up doing. 

               Luckily for my parents, the field of special education was still in its fledgling stage.  And I was one of their early experiments.  They did not promise my parents a bed of roses.  They did not promise some snake oil that was going to make me normal.  What they did promise was that they would provide me with the proper support.  They would work with my learning style, they would give me what I need.  Since I was relatively high functioning, I would be mainstreamed to the best of my ability.  But for all intents and purposes, I was still segregated from the school community at large.

               At first, this prospect was very scary for my parents.  After all, I was one of the highest functioning students in the program.  So it goes without saying that I would be surrounded by students who were older than me but lower functioning.  This would hamper my social development (and oh boy did it).  Of course, they tried compensating by mainstreaming me heavily.  They sent me to summer camps with the general ed kids.  So at least I was aware of where other kids my age were socially.  But this did not save me from still being very behind the curve on a social level.  I was still pretty immature for my age, ongoing even into my adult years.  Now social skills are a tricky thing that even now I'm no expert with.  A whole battery of shrinks, social skills groups, and regular seminars on how to behave in public did very little to set me straight.  Hell, I will even venture and say that plenty of the people giving these things were extremely out of touch with the way real humans behave; but that's another story for another time.

                 It took my parents until I was in my late 20s before they would admit that they were no longer scared for my future.  It took me until I was in my mid-20s to learn how to be a success.  I would not recommend for anyone the course of actions I took in order to find myself; there was plenty of self-destructive behavior involved.  But I rose up from the ashes of being defecated on by the education system.  Nowadays, when I listen to other parents speaking of their fears for their children, I empathize with my parents and the fears they had for me.  And I hope that I am able to do for them what I had to do for myself during my own formative years--only hopefully with more success. 

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