It’s no secret that Snider High School is a large school with many functioning parts that control how the school itself runs. The special education (SPED) department is an essential piece to making Snider run smoothly and efficiently for students with I.E.P.s and students in academic classes that have co-teachers.
At Snider there are multiple special education teachers and many have heard of them. Many SPED teachers are only seen in classes as co-teachers unless they’re running a resource class; however, the purpose of SPED teachers is much more important. SPED teachers craft Individual Education Plans (I.E.P.s) for students with disabilities in order to make learning easier for the student and do this through co-teaching, escort schedules, resource classes, the HUB and other more exclusive practices.
The special education department deals with students who have trouble learning, and is split into two parts: LD teachers (learning disability teachers) and ED teachers (emotional disability teachers). Special education teachers who specialize in learning and mild disabilities make I.E.P.s in order to make learning equal for students with disabilities including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, autism and obsessive compulsive disorder, while special education teachers that specialize in emotional disabilities make I.E.P.s to make learning easier for students with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other emotional disabilities. Each I.E.P. is tailored to a student’s specific needs in order to make learning equal, and include learning accommodations to make a student’s school life easier.
Special education teachers have various backgrounds. For example, Ms. Amy Springer began her career in children’s ministry, Mrs. Nicole Block was a general education teacher and Mr. Joseph Sullivan began by teaching classes in journalism; however, they all have one thing in common — a passion for helping kids. For Mrs. Rachael Miller the passion came from her mentally disabled brother and for Mrs. Sharon Stewart the passion came from her own educational struggles.
“I didn’t read until sixth grade and decided I had to make changes. I understand how people learn differently,” Stewart said.
Now that Stewart is a teacher, she is a part of the group of special education teachers that do not feel that their work is recognized fully. Special education teachers provide in-class help, out-of-class help and paperwork to address students with emotional and learning struggles. Many SPED teachers began their interviews with things like:
“I’m going to be typing, is that okay?”
“I’m working with someone, can you come back in about ten minutes?”
Many of the interviewed teachers were busy with paperwork, students or were simply busy. Special education teachers as a whole do many, many things, but when asked, almost all said that they do not feel like that work is recognized.
In contrast, Ms. Springer said that not all special education work should actually be recognized; however, she still agreed with the blanket result: SPED teachers’ work is not fully recognized.
“Some of it shouldn’t be (recognized). We don’t want our students to be bullied or stand out. A lot of the job is under the radar work to keep kids comfortable and safe,” Ms. Springer said.
Special education teachers have responsibilities beyond co-teaching and writing education plans for students. Many have undertaken jobs to better their department. Mr. Charles Webster, math and special education teacher, also feels the job isn’t fully recognized for what it is.
“Special education teachers are recognized by the families [of the students]. The regular classroom teachers? They don’t see, because we provide supports behind the scenes,” Webster said.
If special education teachers aren’t recognized fully for what they do, what keeps them going? Many teachers interviewed agree that the connections they make with other teachers, students and parents fulfill their satisfaction with the job. Mrs. Erin Shamblin said that graduation is part of what keeps her going.
“I tear up when I see a kiddo who has really struggled walk across the stage and receive their diploma,” she said.
There are, according to the teachers, many benefits of being a special education teacher. Every interviewed teacher has agreed that, in some way, the connections they make with students, other teachers and parents is the best part of special education. From graduation to just simply helping students understand something for the first time, connections drive special education.
“I get to build close relationships with families and kids on my caseload,” Webster said. “A lot of kids look me up and stay in contact with me maybe four or five years down the road.”
Many special education teachers also agree that one of the best parts of being a SPED teacher is feeling like they make a difference in the lives of their students.
Miller said “Feeling like I make a difference and connecting with students, like, helping students reach their own potential and recognize their strengths in spite of any struggle,” is the best benefit of special education.
Special education teachers at Snider all want to help students, build connections, and make a difference in their school for students with learning and emotional disabilities.
“I love helping a kid realize how wonderfully smart they are,” Mrs. Stewart said.