I saw this story on CNN today and it made me sick. But as a teacher I have a slightly different perspective than the special needs advocate featured in the segment. While she makes some good points, she does not understand the larger picture and why the fix is not quite so simple as she makes it out to be. Read more after the clip…
Understanding What Went Wrong
The easy answer is that there was a “bad apple”, a teacher and/or teacher’s aide that was acting and reacting terribly to a situation with a special needs student. The real answer is much more complex than that. No one aside from teachers in special education or parent with special needs children imagine the stress involved with raising children with disablities. I have had ASD students in the past and it requires a tremendous amount of patience and understanding.
Luckily, I have received training along with seeking resources on my own to better understand how to accommodate students like this. I have, however, come close to losing my cool with “normal” students, so I could not imagine trying to teach a classroom full of students with various levels of need. My point is not to excuse the adults behavior, but rather to point out that many of these educators are not qualified to be in these situations in the first place.
A Systemic Problem
Special education positions in this country are chronically under-filled, therefore districts are forced to turn to under-qualified teachers and teacher’s aides to fill the void. The shortage is caused by two problems.
The first is that working with special needs kids takes a special person and has a high rate of burn-out. You have to have the spirit of a missionary to do this work because often you are spending hours, days, and weeks working with a child and seeing very little improvement. Many times the goal is to simply teach kids basic life skills so they can function somewhat autonomously in society.
The other problem is that given the amount of education, training, and experience that should be required, the pay is abysmal. The aide that was fired probably made $20,000 to $25,000 a year with few benefits. Does that sound like a salary of someone qualified to work with autistic kids?
The solution to problem #1 is having one qualified teacher and one or two teacher’s aides that have little more than a high school diploma. The school districts have been mandated to take all students and give them all accommodations necessary help them learn, but not the money to do it. With the assault on teacher’s and teacher’s unions lately this problem is going to get worse.
Many people do not realize this, but in my schools contrast it is the union that forces the district to keep class sizes low and require that teachers and aides have certain qualifications.
What about tenure? Shouldn’t that teacher be fired?
The aide in this situation that seemed to be the most responsible was justifiably fired by the district (and probably was not qualified for the position in the first place). The teacher apparently was moved to another building within the district. The father’s reason for going public with all of this is that he feels the teacher should be fired as well but blames tenure as the reason the teacher has retain her position.
He is very upset about the treatment of his son and I certainly think he is justified. However, we need to take a step back at look at it from a different viewpoint. This teacher has taught special needs children for 23 years. I find it very hard to believe that someone could be in that position for 23 years and not have anything but love and compassion in her heart. This is an excellent case for teacher tenure.
Is it really right that a teacher’s career be ended because of an outspoken parent trying to avenge the mistreatment of his son whether the teacher was directly involved or not? Teachers are licensed professionals and deserve due process when an allegation of wrong doing is made. We are taking one day of recordings (broken down into just a few snippets) and saying it should immediately end a 23 year career of service without any investigation.
Teacher tenure is not the problem. The problem is administrations and boards that look the other way because they are too lazy to go though the process of firing a teacher and trying to hire another. For all we know this teacher may have complained about the aide’s behavior to her administration only to have it fall on deaf ears due to staffing shortages. There is just too much not known at this point to be calling for this teachers head on a platter.
Is Homeschooling your Special Needs Child the Answer?
Many parents send their special needs child to school thinking that they are not qualified and their child needs special programs that can only be provided for in a school. I say what your child needs most is love and positive experiences. If you can find a school and teachers that provide it than consider yourself extremely lucky.
There are extremely compassionate and wonderful teachers out there for special needs kids, but they are overworked and underpaid. Most likely your child will be primarily interacting with aides or para-professionals that are poorly trained, and on the verge of burn-out. If you cannot homeschool your special needs child be as involved as you possibly can in her school and education so you know quickly of any potential problems.