Friday, April 27, 2007

What do I teach?

On my way into the school today, a student I don't know asked me what I taught. It's a good question that I didn't have an answer for. I didn't want to say, "special ed." I also have abandoned my previously prepared answer of, "I help student learn who have a difficult time behaving in school" because I don't want my student labelled as "the bad kids." What I should have said was, "I help make the school a place where everyone can learn." That thought occurred to me a minute later. And then I thought of a diagram that describes what I do:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Special Ed Life

Z is a gas. He's fairly incapable of interacting with most people, even those he knows really well. Every day I greet him warmly and he says, "Be quiet." Which for him means he's doing all right. He's been in a behavior class for several years now and believes that he's been victimized by the situation because he feels he hasn't learned all that much. This is probably true and I've told him so. But he also refuses to do his work a lot of the time. He'll sit there for 45 minutes until the period is over because he thinks he's getting revenge on you. He's also really afraid of failing and gets frustrated easily when he can't do the work.

Z has made tremendous strides this year. Last year he was a desk thrower and would pound his head against the wall when he was frustrated. He spent a lot of last year in an office cubicle because that's where he felt comfortable. He refused to go to mainstream classes and there are some amazing stories about his interactions with his mom on school grounds. This year, other than a little binder slamming and stomping around, he's had zero intense behavior issues. He goes to all mainstream classes and does well for the most part.

We've arranged various modifications and accomodations for him this year. One of which is that he gets excused from an assignment every time he does another assignment - it's a two for one deal. Between his work refusal, below-grade level achievement and frequent absences, he just can't keep up. When he sees that he's missing 14 assignments in one class he can't see that it's largely of his own doing and he just wants to throw in the towel. So, we've got this accomodation worked out to keep him motivated.

One of his teachers really feels like this is doing a diservice to Z in some ways because we can modify and accomodate until we're blue in the face and then eventually he's going out in the world in which there are very few accommodations for people who don't fit the mold. Obviously, this is not the way we want it to be, but he's right to point out that this is the way it is. He's getting special ed schooling but there's no special ed life out there. He's going to have to show up for work and finish jobs as they're assigned. He's not going to be able to berate people for not knowing how to do something and he's going to have be somewhat personable to his employers. If not, it's unlikely he's going to be able to participate meaningfully in society. Z's issues are compounded by the fact that his disability is "invisible": he has some intense anxiety issues and victimization issues but he looks like a typical person - albeit a bit withdrawn and quiet.

Some folks, like the above mentioned teacher, just don't see that he's disabled and he's not going to magically be "cured". This is who Z is. And he rules. He's hilarious and smart. He knows way more about cars and all things mechanical than I ever will. It's too bad that most people will write him off for being a difficult person because he's got a very rich personality and it's been rewarding to know him this year. More than likely he'll be a mechanic of some sort when he gets out of high school and make more money than any one who ever tried to teach him.