Last friday I substitute taught in a 6th grade Special Education classroom.
My heart was so disheartened by what I encountered during that time.
I had four class periods....two of those are basically one math class, split into two periods of the day, for these special education students who are pretty low at math. I get that these kids all have IEP's (Individual Learning Plans) and why they qualify for special education is not something I'm allowed to know.
This I do know: they are all individuals who deserve a shot to excel as much as they are capable of. They are not to be told what they can and cannot achieve, and they deserve to be respected as the individuals they are.
They were a little bit difficult....that's what happens when you have a mix of 6th graders, who are special education, who have had a sub for the second day in a row, who respond to things a little bit differently.
But what's sad is what's sad is what I witnessed.
I don't claim to be great but I claim to be pretty darn good at working with kids. I relate to them, I know how to interact with them, and I understand how to get down to their level. I feel for them, I have empathy towards their disadvantages, and I find joy in them.
But these are the things I witnessed that made my heart break:
1. One of the first things the other special education teacher who taught the math class with me said to me was "Mrs. F is obviously not going to be writing any letters to Harvard for this group." How sad that he, as a special education teacher, has the nerve to put limits on any child let alone these kids. They need their teachers to push them to keep reaching beyond what others think their limits are, not define them! You don't tell a kid what they are and are not capable of, that they will fail...how dare you!
2. The same said teacher had the nerve to playing push a kids head. Excuse me. You don't touch children.
3. The way he was talking to them made me so mad. You don't talk to children like they are dumb! They aren't dumb. You don't call them names to their face. You don't talk about the kid in front of them. No! You just don't do that.
4. It really made me sad that I was in there for one day, and able to explain pre-algebra math in a way that they could understand that they hadn't been able to before. Not even that...these kids don't know how to do multiplication or division...and I was able to start successfully teaching it to them in ONE DAY!! I'm not good at math. But how sad is it that I can teach these kids and reach them in a manner that their normal teachers can't.
5. One kid, named Jacob, has behavior problems. The teacher had warned me via sub plans that he might be troublesome. Yes he was, he wanted to push limits. But by working with him just a little bit one-on-one, and by giving him a couple positive comments, I was able to control that behavior. What the heck does that say about the teacher who is normally there?!?! Not very much that's for sure.
You just have to treat kids with respect, like they are human. You have to be positive towards them, establish limits and boundaries and stick to them. You have to push them to excel, not tell them how they will fail.
It just broke my heart :-(