This March, marks my fourteenth year in education. Twelve of those years I have been a special education teacher. With all this experience, you might think I would have some good advice to share. However, the advice I can offer best, is what NOT to do.
#1.) Don’t Do it For Them
I once found my assistant coloring a world map for one of my eighth-grade students. It was an assignment for a regular education World History class, one that was due several days earlier. My assistant was doing an excellent job, it was very colorful and in the lines, but SHE was doing it.
This student, we’ll call him John, was not physically disabled. He had a mild learning disability in reading and math. John was not unable to color a map; he attended all regular education classes. John just took his time and felt no real sense of urgency to do his work-- or to do it well.
John often got off-task and loved to socialize. He just wasn’t really into doing work. Many days he told me he was just too tired. I asked my well-meaning assistant what she was doing and she answered in a tense, stressed voice,
“He has to get this done.”
Yes, HE does.
As special education teachers, we feel so much responsibility for our students. We feel responsible because somehow the grade they earn reflects on us. Is this right?
How is doing work for our students helping them? What is badgering them, following them around and forcing them to complete every assignment-- just to get it done-- really teaching them? Does it even matter if they learned anything?
Obviously, many students need our support and guidance. Some need a lot more support than others, but none of them need us to do it for them.
It scares me to see how many students have become increasingly unmotivated and uninspired. What is even more scary is, it is the teachers who are working harder to compensate. Why are WE working harder than THEM?
As a special education teacher supporting kids in regular education classes, I often feel like my job is to keep bailing water out of a sinking ship. The boat keeps taking on water, so I keep working faster and faster and harder and harder-- just to keep the boat afloat. Meanwhile, my student is sitting on the boat, watching me, puzzled, amused, just along for the ride.
At times, I have felt parents and administration supported this. Everyone feels better when a student is passing. But what if they didn’t do it themselves? What if they’re only passing because of me?
What have I taught my student about life? What kind of job will they have where someone comes in and does the work for them—but gives them credit? How will they learn to feel success or accomplishment?
It’s hard to watch kids struggle, and I am more than willing to help a student who is genuinely trying and wants to do well.
I wish I had some really good advice on motivating students and creating a fool-proof method to ensure each student is really giving it their all.
But for now, I’ll just share what I’ve learned NOT to do.
Don’t Do it For Them.