Trust Me. It’s NOT for the Paycheck!

budget cutsA few weeks ago I came home from teaching Extended School Year (summer school), vegged out on the couch with my son, and re-watched the series finale of The Office.  I LOVE The Office!  I can’t walk through a room and not watch it if it is on.  Anyway, I forgot that the series finale was a real tear jerker.  It was fun to see the friends all reunited and it made me think of my own transition to a new school this coming school year and leaving my work family.  Leaving my old school was a very hard decision for me but I was getting really burned out in the program I was teaching.  I knew that if I stayed I would become a bad teacher.  So, I accepted a position at a new school teaching a different program.  I am very excited to get started but so sad to leave old friends and students.  My last day at my school I walked around with a lump in my throat that would not go away as I said countless good-byes and gave many hugs.  I kept it together until I said good-bye to the last person, our office manager. The tears started rolling as I hugged her and I made a quick exit.  It was fitting that she would be the last one I said good-bye to since she was the first person I met when I interviewed.  She was always a warm, kind person who was quick to help me even when she was swamped with all her other responsibilities.

I bring up my exit from my beloved work home because I have had a sour attitude towards the field of teaching lately.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love teaching.  I can’t imagine doing anything else!  Lately, in our school district there has been a lot of strife towards the ‘powers that be’.  A pay freeze was recently announced for all teachers and support staff.  Woop-dee-do! To add salt to our wounds our benefits are getting more expensive.  I am sure, like me, that many other educators right now have been rethinking their profession choice.  Teaching can be a very thankless job. Teachers are blamed for everything wrong with the world.  There is always some deviant teacher in the news or some talking head berating us and making gross generalizations.  It can be and often is a discouraging field to work in.

So, I took a step back and thought about all the amazing teachers that I work with in the trenches.  They are the teachers and staff that let me cry on their shoulders and the ones that cheer for me.  They are the people that know just by looking at me if it has been a hard day.  They have mentored me and supported me. They share lesson plans and ideas with me and put up with me when I am tired and crabby.  They have also taught my own children and blessed their lives with kindness and firmness.  They make it easier when everyone else is playing the blame game and our pay is frozen once again.

There will always be people that are lazy and just trying to skate through to the summertime or retirement.  That’s true of any profession.  I feel like I am a lucky person despite all the other rubbish.  I am blessed because for the most part the people that decide to work in the education field are good people.  They certainly aren’t there for the pay check just like me.  They are there to help children, and in the long run make the world a better place to live in.  I get to work with and rub shoulders with those awesome people and that makes it worth it! I have become a better person because of them!  Thank you!

Safety First

A recent experience reminded me how easily it is for kids to slip away no matter how hard you try to keep track of them. Things happen!  It think about another experience I had several years ago when my nine year old daughter got lost at the lake after some miscommunication.  I thought she was with another adult and vice versa.  It was the scariest experience of my life!  I am not sure how long it was that we were frantically looking for her but it felt like a decade.  It was probably about fifteen minutes.  Thankfully, we found her walking up the road the way we had come.  I had never been more relieved in my whole life!  
As a teacher thinking about losing a student is also a chilling thought! Parents entrust their students to us and it is our job to make sure they are safe. Working in special education it is a lot more magnified to make sure students are safe.  In special education we work with some students that are not aware of common dangers, or have behaviors that are unsafe or provocative.  I remember subbing in an elementary autism program years ago.  There was a student that was a runner.  His desk was placed right next to an outside door.  I thought this was a really bad idea but I was only a sub so what did I know? Baloney!  We had no sooner had our kids seated from recess when he gave me a big smile and was out the door and through the gate to the parking lot.  I was close behind him and grabbed him right before he darted in front of a school bus.  Since then I have had students with varying degrees of unsafe behaviors.  Thankfully, I am the teacher now and can put interventions in place, like not putting a runner next to the door. However much we prepare, as educators and parents we need to always be prepared for the worst case scenario.  Sometimes things happen. Something could set off a student and he or she could slip away in a blink of an eye.
Much of the curriculum for my students is community based.  That means there are even more situations that could be potentially unsafe. First and foremost I use common sense. If I know it is not safe to bring a student out into thr community I won’t do it. This doesn’t even need to be said. I practice with the student in a safe environment that I have control over before ever leaving campus.
My sister gave me a great idea that she does with her students. She will have them line up and snap a quick picture before going on a CBI. This is a great idea just in case something does happen she has a current picture that shows what they are wearing that day. It is easy enough to text to authorities or other staff.
I was also thinking it would be a good idea to do this the first day of school or every day the first few weeks of school, especially for students who are nonverbal. Students don’t usually have their school ID picture for several weeks. The picture the school may have on file may be dated and we all know kids change a lot in a year. This would also be a good idea for parents or caretakers to do on crowded outings. Another thing I do is store guardian contact information in my phone along with any pertinent information I may need to share.
These are just a few things I think are helpful. What are some safety related precautions you take for your students or kids? I love hearing tried and true tips and tricks!

Cooties are Real! Really!

I haven’t posted for a few days with my husband having last minute knee surgery, teaching summer school, kids going to camp, coming home from camp, and catching a nasty cold.  I have been busy.  So, most teachers can relate to getting kid cooties.  There is NO avoiding it!  I am about to go into my fourth year of teaching.  In my very long career, ok maybe it just has felt long, I have been on the end of kid cooties continually.  I figured when I went into teaching that since I have four kids of my own and had also subbed for years my immune system was pretty darn strong.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  My first year of teaching I figured out that I was seriously sick at least once a month.  That was a serious bummer since I only started out with three sick days.  Maybe other teachers can tell me if this was normal for them.  I don’t know if it was because I was around students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities that had weak immune systems and came to school sick regularly.  I wiped noses and mouths (and other places) daily.  Being sneezed on was just routine.  So, that was my first year.  My second year, same class, same germs, and I was probably sick about half as much as the year before!  Progress!  Last year was great!  I think I was only sick once or twice.  That school year only ended about six weeks ago.  I made the difficult decision to teach Extended School Year (summer school) this summer. After only one week of being with this new group of students I came down with this really nasty cold.  Is it possible that my immune system was going on strike for the summer?  That is just one of the perks of being a teacher!  In the two weeks I’ve been teaching summer school I have have been sneezed and drooled on countless times, had a student throw up in class, stood next to a kid that threw up in the cafeteria (twice), and the list goes on.  So, I guess I need to start in on the vitamin C double or triple time right now for the new year!  I need to stock up on the lotion so that I can use it after the gallons of hand sanitizer my poor hands endure.  Of course, I will be teaching the “Cover Your Cough” lesson the first week of school.  I wonder if wearing a hazmat suit to work would be too hot or frowned upon.  I wonder how hard it would be to teach from a bubble.  I will add this to my list of things to consider for the new year.  Until then… happy vitamin C popping, and hand sanitizer glopping!

A Person NOT a Label!

Meeting Temple Grandin!

Meeting Temple Grandin!

During my oh so long college years when I FINALLY started in on the good stuff, that is my major, Special Ed., we often heard the phrase, “people first language”.  I even had a professor that you would get a thorough tongue lashing if you did not use it.  Now let me be honest, I don’t always walk on the politically correct side of the issues.  Some of it is just plain ridiculous but I wholeheartedly agree on this issue in special education.  So, let’s just get down to it.  I HATE the word ‘autistic’ or ‘disabled’.  If you use those words around me you will see me cringe or step back a bit even if I am trying not to do it.   Here is the thing.  A person HAS autism.  They are NOT autism. There is more to people then their disability.   When you call someone disabled or autistic they become that label.  It is hard to see past the label and to the person.  I am not talking about using the r-word in this post.  Trust me, that deserves its own entry and I will get to that.

In my professional life I am surprised by how many people that actually work in the field still use the word autistic or disabled. I have had to use my discretion when deciding who to correct and give a mini lesson to.  I don’t want to make too many enemies at work!  Once I nicely explain the mistake they either see the point or choose to disregard it.  It’s their choice to make.  When I don’t have time to educate or feel like I shouldn’t I usually just try to reword what they have said into using the term correctly like, “Oh, that is your student WITH autism you are talking about.”

I make an exception when I am talking to parents of children with a disability or a person with a disability.  I consider it their choice on how they want to refer to themselves or their children.  I feel like they are the experts in this area, not me.  So, here is the question.  If you are a parent or a person with a disability, what do you feel about people first language?  Do you use it?  Would you be offended if someone corrected you?

Last Fall I was privileged to attend a conference where Temple Grandin was the speaker.  I even had the honor of meeting her and having her autograph some books.  I LOVE Temple Grandin.  She is brilliant and surprisingly, very funny!  She has contributed so much to the field of autism.  She has shone valuable light on an area that had seemed foreign not so long ago.  Temple Grandin uses the word autistic all the time.  I am not about to be the one to correct her.  I think she can decide how she refers to herself and the autism community in general!

Special Ed Geek – Amber

Variety is the Spice of Life!

Throughout history we have had the struggle of one or more groups of people that have felt they were superior because of different traits like gender, race, or religion.  We have come far fighting discrimination but the disability community has always been under represented in the battle for equality and acceptance.  We have IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) to give individuals access to education and public spaces without discrimination. One thing that always bothers me, however, is that there is some unwritten code that anyone is superior because he or she has abilities that are within societal norms.  So, who has the job to decide that someone is better because they think, move, hear, or speak differently?  No one should.

Living with a disability can be a very lonely life.  Many people with disabilities closest relationships are with their caretakers. They do not have regular friendships with their peers.  Friendship with our peers is a way of fulfilling a basic human need. Let us look through the eyes of other people and try to see that our way is not the only way.  If we give others a chance we may just learn something and enrich our lives along the way.  I say often that I love working in special education because it is never boring.  I mean this in a good way.  It has helped stretch who I am because I am forced to look at life through a different perspective.  I am a better person because of it.  Let’s be real.  Life would be really boring without variety!  Let’s move away from forming “pity friendships”.  In our differences we can and will find that we are more similar then we realize.

Special Ed Speaks Introduction

Hello Everyone!  Thanks for visiting my blog, Special Education Speaks!  This blog is for teachers, parents, and anyone that has an interest in the special needs community.  My name is Amber Robertson and I decided to start this blog because I love the field of special education.  I am a teacher for students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  I love the students I work with and am constantly learning from them.  The field of special education is ever changing. While there are innovative and great things happening in this field, I feel there are also many areas that have not changed for years and need to be improved.  There have been great shifts in becoming more inclusive in the classroom and society but we are far from close to embracing everyone no matter what their ability or disability.  I think this is a topic that needs to be explored more thoroughly.  I would also like to use this blog to share experiences with each other that may help in the special needs community.  I am always looking for ways I can improve as a teacher and so I will be sharing things that I am doing in the classroom in hopes it may help spark some ideas for other teachers and parents.  I would love to hear your ideas too!  Finally, I hope that we can share resources with each other that may enrich the lives of people living with disabilities and their loved ones.  Far too often I hear from my students’ parents, friends, and family that it is very hard to find the resources that they vitally need.  

Please have a look and don’t be shy.  Leave me a comment!

As a side note:  I do not endorse any particular group or site and the things I post are from my own personal experiences and opinions.

Thanks!  Amber Robertson