I am a special education teacher. I wouldn't have it any other way. I proudly love what I do.
I recently began the initial steps of my Ohio Teacher Evaluation System procedures by sitting down with my principal and having my pre-observation interview. It was a lot of fun.
Much of the interview was about the lesson my principal will be observing, but a good deal of it also revolved around my professional development, teaching style, and relationships with colleagues. I was also asked about my philosophy of education–which I interpret as, "What is your relationship with your students?" Here is what I had to say.
I try to incorporate everything into my lessons. I think my age is one of my assets with my students. I am honest with them [my students] about what they have to face in life and how their education will aid them in future endeavors, and how a lack of it will hinder them. I encourage them to remember that they have something to contribute to this world. I encourage them to break the shackles of helplessness–which parents and otherwise well-meaning people impose upon them. I positively brow-beat [just a wee bit of hyperbole becaues I don't actually, literally brow-beat] them with the idea that they are responsible for themselves and their actions. I also remind them daily that they are loved and cared for. I try to be to them all the things that teachers and others have not been to me.
In other words, I work very hard to love my students. I work very hard to make certain that they are achieving as much as they can daily. I do not wait for a principal to observe me. I do not wait for my students to take assessments. I do not wait for my yearly evaluation to be put into my hands. I don't wait for value-added data to be published. I take the responsibility of educating my students very seriously. Considering how much time I put in, maybe too seriously.
What I do is go to my classroom everyday with the idea that I am never going to see my kiddos again and that I have a lot of work to do with them, for them, and on their behalf. I refuse to be lazy in my classroom; I refuse to produce lazy students. Furthermore, I refuse to allow my students to be lazy in my classroom. Just because a student has special needs or are differently-abled does not mean they are exempt from the rigors and challenges of this life.
I do not want my students to find themselves at some point in life where they can not take care of themselves. In other words, I think about the what-ifs of life each day. I am especially honest with parents about this too.
Special Education is not about hiding students in a closet and getting them through year to year with the least expenditure of energy possible. It's not, to be sure, even about getting them to pass Alternate Assessment or other tests the state and federal government impose upon them. (It's an obscene amount of pressure put upon students so that my job will be safe.) Special Education is, on the contrary, about helping the students to function in the real world as freely, as fluently, and as and as frequently as possible.
I despise people who take the path of least resistance when it comes to education, even more those who do that in special education. Our students deserve our 100% effort every single minute of the day. Am I really loving my students if I do nothing but perpetuate helplessness? If my students think I am lazy then what will think I expect of them? Or, how can I expect my students to put forth effort when the example I set for them is one of laziness and indifference?
It may sound mean, but I give my students as little help as possible in the classroom. Sometimes they need my hands; sometimes my feet. But for the most part, the students need my encouragement to do for themselves. This is how I best love my kiddos.