The Special Education teacher should be the instructional leader of the building. They should be the most dynamic, the most innovative. After all, they’re teaching the kids no one else can teach. They are doing precisely what the Regular Education teacher is incapable of doing.
(Note: this essay refers to the student who is slated for a primarily regular education placement with some support from a Resource Room teacher. These are children of average or only slightly below average intelligence who are labeled LD or EI.)
The Special Ed teacher should be seen in a role that is analogous to the medical specialist. The child should come from their Regular Education (pediatrician) teacher to receive specialized, short-term services. No one whispers about a specialist: oh, poor guy, he only gets the really sick ones, the real bottom-of-the-barrel patients. All that work to go through medical school, but, he couldn’t get a real job so finally he had to take a job as a specialist. Wow, I can’t imagine having to work with those patients.
The Special Ed teacher is not a homework helper. It is a waste of everyone’s time if the child is coming to the Resource Room bringing an assignment from their Regular Education class. Let’s look at what is really happening in that situation. The child brings down their science book with the assignment to answer the questions at the end of the chapter. The adult has to read the questions to the child, guide the child into finding the relevant chapter section, find the answer, and then put a sticky note on the book pointing out what sentence the child is supposed to copy in order to answer the question. The child completes the copying, they move on to the next question.
Now the session is done. I would bet that 9 times out of 10, if the adult asked the child what they had just copied down, the child would have no idea. The child has not gained any knowledge of science from this exercise. No learning occurred. And, if no learning occurred, then it’s also true that no teaching occurred. The teacher did not earn his salary during this exercise. Another grade-level student could have easily performed the same role that that teacher performed, and been paid $5 an hour to do it. Nothing happened.
Instead, that child’s time with the Special Education teacher should have been focused on learning to read. The reading was the barrier to learning, so the reading should have been the focus of the instruction, not completing yet another meaningless worksheet.
I am not saying that the Special Education teacher chose or wanted this role. But, I am saying that it explains why the profession does not receive much respect. If the teacher is doing no more than what a kid could do, there’s good reason they haven’t earned the respect of their colleagues.
Change is difficult. And if you want to change your role from tutor to instructor, it will require significant change. It will require institutional change. But, this change is for the purpose of bettering the lives of our children. It is more right to teach them to read, than it is to get them a passing grade in science, especially when that grade is not based on real student learning.
I am saying that it is okay to forget every other subject except reading and math. It isn’t ideal, we all would prefer for the child to have his science and social studies and computers and art class. But, we have a child in critical condition who is being referred to the specialist. There isn’t time for anything but dealing with the root cause of his disability.
In one way the system is already set up to support the Special Education teacher in doing exactly this. We only write IEP goals for Language Arts and Math. Those are the only two areas in which a child can qualify for special education. That is the child’s area of weakness; that is why the child is coming to the Resource room; that is where the focus should be.
So, the teacher needs to insist that they be able to focus on only those IEP goals. They have the law to back them up. They have a mandate from a contract that the school wrote in agreement with the child’s parents. That is the basis for their approach to making the Resource Room into an Instructional Room. The Resource that the child is supposed be tapping into is instruction in their area of disability, not an over-paid homework helper.
Let me give you four concrete methods that I have used to make this a reality in my building. First, I spent the entire first two weeks of school making my schedule. Everything was tentative, I knew everything would probably have to move around several times. I was, after all, dealing with five grade levels, therefore, five different recess and lunch and Special schedules, and a total of eight different Regular Education teachers I had to approach and haggle with. Even after those first weeks my schedule underwent a radical change two more times in just the first semester of the school year. But, a schedule is just words on a paper; they can be changed.