I think there are days when every special education teacher feels like a rockstar. Everything falls into perfect harmony, just like a concert. The curriculum programs are in sync, the staff is all on the same page, the students are ready and willing to listen, and every intervention hits that perfect pitch. The “audience” leaves learning something new. You walk out of the room knowing you made a difference, feeling . . . well, like a rockstar!
And as every rockstar knows, there are slumps. I am in one of those slumps right now. If you had asked me six weeks ago what is the most essential characteristic of a special education teacher, I would have said flexibility. Now, I’m learning just how flexible I can be.
Recently, my classroom underwent some major changes. I basically received a brand-new class in October: I got a few new younger students, which meant some older ones moved up. There is no veteran student role model for my new students to take their cue from. Teaching went back to Day 1 and we had to learn expectations and routines all over again.
I don’t know many other teachers like myself who work in rooms with really young students with emotional disorders. My students all have very tumultuous lives outside of school; their behavior is why they are placed in my room and their home lives can directly affect how their day will go. Right now, rather than having a cohesive classroom, I have five little universes that collide daily—and hard. One wrong “note” and the day is up for grabs.
So the “show” I put on before is no longer engaging my new audience. They are getting restless and I am pelted with tomatoes (in the form of pencils) on a daily basis.
Therefore I’m changing the line-up. I’m pulling out some “golden oldie” lessons from my bag of tricks. Every day, I’m going to Plan B. And Plan C. Some days it even feels like Plan Z.
As rough as the school day can be, I’m still constantly amazed at how well each one handles what is going on at home. I want to protect my students and to show them that they can trust me; my classroom is the one constant and my team and I want to do what is best for them.
Building trust takes time, however, and it’s only been a few weeks. That being said, I’m seeing moments of hope. The other day, one of my students decided to go to the “Quiet Corner” to de-stress without prompting. Four little voices piped up, “Good choice! Nice job!” My little ones were becoming rockstars all on their own.
This reminds me of an inspiring session at a conference on social and emotional learning standards I recently attended. The presenter asked at what grade level we teach students to start sentences with a capital letter; most of us agreed it started in kindergarten. She then asked how many of us knew third graders and beyond who often forgot to do this. She pointed out that while most kids can tell you when to use the skills they’ve been taught, sometimes they still forget.
Students with emotional disorders are no different. I’m laying the foundation now; I’m teaching the skills. Picking appropriate coping skills is not instinctual for my students yet, but one day it will be.
Until then, I will just keep striving to keep my classroom in harmony.