This special section of our news is about our Special Education Department. Mrs. Kim Otto and Mr. Aaron Shockley give you some insights and views on teaching students. Many times teachers teaching students with special needs go unnoticed and unrecognized. They help students with disabilities cope with their handicaps and create an environment that promotes skill development to become successful. Here is some insight into those two teachers and the program.
By: Kim Otto
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher but it wasn't until I met Lauren that I knew Special Education was for me! Lauren was a preschool student in my class, the cutest little red headed child, with Autism. I learned a lot that year about Autism, patience, discipline, more patience, even more patience and watching a child being left out and having the feeling of not being wanted.
It was difficult to get anyone to take Lauren in their class. She did not promote to the next class with her peers, she stayed with me year after year. I was frustrated with the situation and wondered how I would feel if society did not want my child in their life or in their classroom. It was through those years that I decided to get my degree in Special Education. Lauren needed a voice.
After a couple years in the Special Education Program, my adviser convinced me that Special Education was a job that was not for me. She told me that the majority of my students would have medical issues and basically scared me out of it. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
After a few years in the regular education classroom, something happened to make me realize that Special Education WAS where I needed to be! I had a Special Education student that spent the majority of their day in the Resource Room. I saw this student at lunch, recess, PE, music and art. This particular day the student was in the Resource Room and my class was engaged in a wonderful classroom discussion before lunch. The Special Education student walked into the class and we were laughing and having a good time. The look on that child's’ face still haunts me!
This student, my student, had no idea what was going on. This student felt like an outsider in their own classroom! I really didn’t even know this student like I did my others. I was crushed and it made me think about Lauren and how she was not wanted in anyone’s class. I never wanted any of my kids to feel this way again.
I decided that day that I would get my certification for Special Education. I easily passed the Praxis but decided to earn a 2nd Master’s Degree to be fully prepared and knowledgeable in Special Education.
My goal as a Special Education teacher is to allow all children to feel like they belong. I want these kids to feel like they are the same as every other kid. Don’t we all need help sometimes? Should we be penalized for this and taken away from our peers to get the help?
Thinking back to my own school career…. I never saw the Special Education students. I am not sure where they spent their day but they were not ever in any of my classrooms. The law says that the students should be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment, but more than that; as a teacher, I want to teach every child regardless of their disabilities. I want them to feel important and wanted. I want them to walk into my classroom and not feel like an outsider like my student did that day.
In the first few years, I tried to be in their classroom instead of bringing them to my classroom. I tried to be positive and fun and not make it obvious that I am working with a particular child. Sometimes it is necessary to do some individual time with students. In the past, the students with a Reading IEP, for example, were taken out of reading class. I do not want to take them during the class time. I feel like they need their class time and need to hear the classroom instruction. They take the same MAP test as their peers, so why are we not allowing them the same access to the curriculum?
We have tried something new with co-teaching classrooms. I believe that it is working great. The classroom is filled with students of all levels of abilities and is taught by a regular education teacher as well as a Special Education Teacher. The class size is smaller and allows for more modifications and accommodations if needed.
The students in this classroom never know who has an IEP and do not know anything about a student’s accommodations or modifications. They are all equal parts of the classroom. We work as a team. The test scores have increased which is important but more than that, these kids feel included!
I love the quote and I’m not sure who said it but it says:
"Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing…
Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful."
I had to use my glasses to write this…. And isn’t that ok? Did you use yours to read it? I just want to teach kids! All kids! I want to give them the tools they need to succeed and I want them to never feel ashamed that they need a little assistance. I love my job and feel blessed to be able to work in the area of Special Education!
By: Aaron Shockley
I have always known that I wanted to teach and be a coach. I have never looked at it as a job, but more a dream. I was somewhat familiar with Special Education because I have an Aunt that has worked in Special Education for years. I was a little nervous when I took the special education job, but excited for the opportunity.
When I took the position, most of the students were self-contained. I worked hard to change their setting to the Least Restrictive Environment as much as possible. We started with some co-teaching but soon realized that a Functional Skills Classroom was necessary.
I wrote grants to incorporate more technology in the classroom. The students can use the technology to write by talking to the computer and it types for them. This allows those students who struggle with writing to be able to write with some assistance.
We also have life skills classroom that allows the students to job shadow. The students learn basic skills needed in the workforce. The students have really enjoyed this experience. They also do some work around the school building as well as academic work. The students feel like they are making a difference. The students are excited about school and work hard.
I did not set out to be a special education teacher but I have enjoyed the experience and the relationships that I have made. The relationships I have with my kids will be with me forever, I consider them family. I can see a difference in my students and their own self-image. They are proud of themselves and I am proud of them. I can't wait to see what they do with their lives after high school!