As a special education teacher for over a decade, I was rather certain I’d seen it all. From intense verbal assaults, physical altercations, failed IEP meetings, “non-present” parents and everything in between.
That was until I decided to host another student teacher in my room.
I’d already hosted several student teachers in my room and thoroughly enjoyed them all! The chance to mentor an enthusiastic “soon to be teacher” was something I looked forward to.
This particular young man was almost finished with his degree in special education. His last step was to spend a month teaching in a classroom in order to graduate. I was ready!
His first day, I arrived early to prepare with the usual checklist (I’m a bit of a planner), and had everything in order for when he arrived.
First order of business… walk around and get to know the students! Every student teacher I’d hosted in the past LOVED this process and most of the students got a kick out of it too.
Everything started out well… that is until one of the students made an inappropriate comment about the way the student teacher was dressed. The student said, “Dude you need to relax and not dress like an uptight old man.” Immediately, the student teacher turned and said in an extremely loud voice, “You need to be quiet and respect me. I don’t appreciate what you said and you need to apologize right now or you will have detention.”
I was absolutely stunned and completely speechless. Needless to say, that response didn’t sit well with that student or the remainder of the classroom for that matter. The student could care less if he had detention, but he wasn’t about to be embarrassed in front of his peers. We were in a self-contained classroom, and for most of my students, this was the last stop before Juvenal detention. Most were removed from public school for behavior issues.
I immediately pulled the student teacher aside and explained how we handle behavior in the classroom and how his approach was not appropriate. For these students (and every child I’ve ever met), to allow excellence you must provide 3 basic needs;
- Consistency in your message and approach.
- Structure in all aspects of their day.
- Most important, show each student that you genuinely care about them and their future.
He agreed, apologized and continued to walk around the room.
On the second day, I had a moment to sit down with him to talk about some basic special education stuff. I had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) due in a few days and I wanted to show him what my IEP writing process was. As I was explaining the IEP he asked, “Why do you write goals on IEP’s?” I explained why and moved on. The next question he had for me was, “What is the Present Level of Performance and how do you find it?” I explained the process in detail and continued on.
As if the first two questions weren’t crazy enough (for someone about to graduate and write IEP’s), his third question truly blew my mind! I was in the middle of chatting about our ESY (Extended School Year) program, he stopped me and said, “I have never heard of ESY, should they have taught me this in school?” Oh boy, I was worried. This young man was about to graduate with a degree in special education and didn’t have a clue. I had a lot of teaching and mentoring to do.
The next few days were great until about the second week. I had asked him to create a lesson plan and show it to me so I could critique it. He said, “I don’t know how to make a lesson plan, can you help me?” By now, he should have had plenty of practice writing lesson plans. This was shocking to me, how was he going to be a teacher? How was he going to do anything without knowing the basics? I was worried for him… Maybe he wasn’t ready.
To be honest, I didn’t think he was suitable to be a teacher, even after all of the resources and mentoring. Not that he was a “bad person” in fact, he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’d worked with several other student teachers from this particular college and they knew all of this stuff. So what was it about this particular student teacher?
Since this experience, I’ve met several more student teachers near their graduation date, that lacked some or all of the special education basics.
Teaching, like all other professions, takes a certain type of person. In order to truly make an impact, a special education teacher must possess a caring mentality, a heightened level of patience and a serious drive to make a difference.
Another unfortunate reality is, many teachers face burn out and leave the profession within 5-10 years of starting, whether they have the necessary skills to be successful or not. Primarily due to classroom overpopulation and significant lack of resources, this huge rate of turnover leaves a massive void in the school system creating even more overpopulation. Also, to fill this significant void, more and more under-qualified teachers are being hired without the resources to properly train them once they begin teaching.
Could you imagine leaving your car with a mechanic who didn’t understand how an engine works? Absolutely NOT! However that’s the equivalent to what’s happening in our school system today. It’s imperative that as a society we band together, get loud, and stand up for our children.
-Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.
What do you think?
As an educator, have you witnessed a change in the teaching landscape in recent years? Are you feeling burnt out?
As a parent, has your child been in a classroom with an under-qualified teacher? What was your experience?
Please share in the comment section below.
Loved your piece! I have had many student teachers and have had to fail a few after many attempts to assist them in passing and graduating with a degree in special education. My final test is just this…. I ask myself, “Can I leave my classroom and trust this person to do my job.” That is the real question. With all that you teach them, they have to be able to have the passion and “brains” to implement. Personally, teaching special education is a gift that only a few of us have 🙂