Back in the Classroom

I went back into the classroom in September and I have so many thoughts! First and most basic, special education is hard. I switched everything—low income to middle income students, lots of diversity to little, big district to small, elementary to high school—and yet it is still just plain hard. I have always had a ton of respect for teachers but now that I am back in the classroom, that respect has only grown. Like I have a lot of years of experience, a lot of training, and a lot of time spent thinking about what it means to do special education well—and yet I still struggle day in and day out with figuring it all out. During any given class, I have moments of being like, “Dang, I rock. These kids are learning something,” and being like, “Umm, why did I run out of work half way through class?” and “Umm, why do I suck so bad?”

I can’t even imagine being a new teacher today. I am deeply unsure of my competency on an hourly basis and I know that I get special education and have a lifetime of experience to bring to bear in the classroom. I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a new teacher right now. Compared to when I left the classroom, students today are sadder, angrier, and more distant than they were. That makes special education even harder. And what I have been realizing day in and day out is just how hard it is to do special education right. How do you know when you are pushing a kid too hard or just enough? How do you know when you have planned enough for a lesson? How do you know when you are being played or when you are just being responsive to a student’s needs? How do you know when to let something slide or when to call a student on it? How do you know what to say when you call home—how to acknowledge all of the challenges a parent is facing in working with their kiddo while still being like but what about me—and pushing the parent to do even more to support you at school? How do you balance all of the paperwork with the crises students are facing day in and day out?

My new district does a better job of protecting teachers than any district I have worked in before. Special education teachers are still burning out. I am working less hours than I have ever before (more time to write, woohoo!), but I am also still ending each day with that mix of triumph and despair that was a part of special education day in and day out for me for all my years before graduate school. I still believe that teaching special education is one of the most important and fun jobs out there but I just keep wishing it wasn’t quite so hard on the teachers. I focus a lot in this site on the paperwork—and that is a stressor I think no teacher should have—but being back has made me remember how much the emotional demands of the job, the caring, the hope, and the heartbreak when a kiddo just gets in their own way, matter.

How do you all manage the challenge? How do you all make the job easier? I’ve got wine, yoga, and a darn good union contract. What do you all have?