How are you supposed to teach without materials?


Burnout in special education part 4

One of the biggest issues that I faced as a special education teacher was lack of materials. I started out working with upper elementary students with behavior problems. Then all of the sudden  I was working with lower elementary students with learning disabilities. I had nothing to use to teach them. I had no programs, no books, and no idea of what I was supposed to do. I went door to door to every kindergarten class at my school begging for workbooks, suggestions, and whatever they could spare.

I wish my experience was unique but I have heard it echoed time and time again when I have spoken with colleagues. I have visited classrooms where the teachers teach with worksheets because that is what they have. We talk about using research based materials in the special education classrooms but who exactly is buying and providing these materials? At least in my school district my principal was supposed to provide me with materials and she often didn’t have thousands to spare on the expensive, research based materials that I needed.

At some schools special education teachers aren’t even given general education curriculum materials, leaving them with nothing. If a school district has purchased enough materials for classroom teachers then special education teachers who don’t take attendance in the morning will be left out.

You could argue that a good special education teacher will create their own materials but that argument is based on absolute ignorance of everything else a teacher has to do—and ignorance of the sheer complexity of all of the disabilities that a teacher has to deal with. No one can create unique materials for every disability and group they might see AND do assessments AND run IEPs AND meet with parents AND meet with teachers AND teach AND work with aides AND give kids the individual attention they need AND problem solve all of the odd things that happen every day AND work with assistants AND ever, ever sleep. That long list of ANDs is a huge reason why special education teachers burn out.

It just seems so simple really—give special education teachers access to the materials they need to do their job well. Give them access to research based interventions, to text books and curriculums, and to all of the other teaching material that they need to actually do their job. If we stopped making the teachers reinvent the wheel every year maybe they would stop quitting special education.