Insight – Special Education is not BS

Student shown here.  Arthur Morris leads an advanced Instructional Photo Tour class on Morro Strand State Beach 13 Jan. 2009

Art Morris Photo Student in silhouette.

I recently read a post by Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher that did get my feathers ruffled but after processing the comments I was more disheartened then agitated. However before going into a rebuttal and rant I will say that there

are some  some valid points and question that I do agree with some, but regretfully what was done was is something that we as educators dislike. As Educators we are often either anger or deflated when the public or government  lumps or brands and entire group together in this case all of Special Education.
The first point of the post was: Special Education labels and “indentifies” kids

I will agree that placing labels on children when referring to them both negatively defines them and also sets them up for failure, but as  attested to, as another teacher it does give you some insight into the behaviors or issues a child may face or display when you know their diagnosis.  I will also agree that the purpose of having diagnostic information is not to hinder a child, but to develop strategies and ideas to engage the student. ADHD was mentioned, yes it is so over used that it is as common as a pencil in a classroom. However you did forgot to mention some of the other diagnosis’s in Special Education that carry significant meaning and require significant modifications and assistance: Asperger‘s, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Tourettes, Autism, Downs Syndrome, ARND, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, MMR, Frontal Lobe and other Neurological concerns, just to name a few. Finally a point of reference, in regards to the regulations and rules surrounding diagnosis in my province. A diagnosis over two years is invalid and the student and files need to be re-evaluated and assessed.

The second point was: Special Education is a way to provide supports and services for students with identified disabilities.

It was mentioned that supports and assistance should be given to all children, with this point I am not going to disagree. There are however situations and occurrences that do require specific interventions that may not be viable in a regular classroom setting. For example I have one grade four student that academically and neurologically is functioning at a kindergarten level. In a classroom of 25 students as a teacher you would be spending 90% of your time working with that student as he is still learning to recognize his alphabet and sounds, and that is after 5 months of work. I also have a student that due to issues of abuse (physical and sexual) is terrified of males and loud noises. For both of these students, my low ratio, modified and educationally assisted classroom has been both rewarding and a  safe experience, which can be difficult to maintain in a larger classroom. Many of the modifications of my classroom and the strategies that are used and are successful, are listed in the PAPERWORK. The paperwork, that is briefly mentioned has more than the application of binding rules. Yes, there are elements that are essential for funding and accountability, but furthermore the paper work is a living entity which changes and adjusts as the students grows, succeeds and finds success. The paperwork is also a collaborative document that is discussed with all of the stakeholders, including if possible the student. Before moving to the next point, I will add that it would probably be very beneficial to any student to have an educational plan that grows and evolves with the student.

The final point is: Special Education is often used as a crutch for students, parents, and teacher alike

It is true that it is easy to give students easier sheets to keep them occupied, but many Special Education teachers have the same expectations of their kids as regular teachers do. That the students not only meet expectations but exceed them. That the students improve so that they may join “regular classrooms”. I can only speak from experience, but I do modify assignments and break down assignments into easier steps. This is to ensure that the students are successful in one section or topic before moving on to another. I expect my students to have proper punctuation and writing skills. My students are required to do novel studies , blog, make presentations using Animoto, Dipity, power point and participate in many other activities that mainstream students do.I do agree that it may take the kids a little longer to complete units and curricular topics, but this way every child has grasped the topic and the faster ones can then help the ones that are struggling, allowing them to feel like they can contribute and be learning leaders.

Special education refers to the education of students identified with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities or as gifted and talented. It is founded on the belief that all children can learn and reach their full potential — given opportunity, effective teaching and appropriate resources.Instruction, rather than setting, is the key to success. Decisions related to the placement of students and children are best made on an individual basis, in a way that maximizes their participation in the experience of schooling.

I am not saying that everything in Special Education should be considered doctrine or that we do everything correctly. Like any classroom mistakes are made and learning from those mistakes happen. Here at my school, we are designated Special Education for many reasons but most importantly because we are the end of the line. Students arriving at our school come from some of the most appalling backgrounds and have some of the most severe learning, social and emotional disabilities. These students have been in regular classrooms, with supports with accommodations, but due to compounded circumstances are sent to me.

I understand that there are many educators that are frustrated, with many aspects and many elements both outside of education and within that affect students, but I ask please don’t be-little, demean or dis-empower what Special Educators do. There are some great things that have come out of Special Education such as One-to-One Learning and Differentiated Learning. As educators we are here to help students and to help each other help students. We can all learn from each other Special or Regular Education. Just a thought…

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10 thoughts on “Insight – Special Education is not BS

  1. Great post and I think we are more in agreement than you think. I am sure you are a great teacher…not a great special education teacher, but a great teacher. You are probably helping your students because they need it, not only because of a piece of paper that says you need to provide specific accomodations. My issues are with a system that says a kid has to have a label to get additional help, and that the help provided has to be done in a scripted manner and according to some magic formula. As educators we should be providing those individual supports based on all students needs.

    Personally, I have a team taught Social Science class with a special education teacher that I teach with. She is not an aid in the room, but a teacher. I would not be able to do my job as well without her and we support each other. She is technically supposed to be in there to support a certain group of kids but we don’t do it that way. We support all of the kids regardless of labels. To me that is the right work to do. Her special education background is a valuable resource and I would never want a school that did not have these specialists in the building.

    Yes, I did mention ADHD and I know that is not the only thing out there. I work with kids of all abilities from kids who could be in high school already to kids on the autism spectrum. I see the need to provide support for these students and I would never suggest no doing so. I also understand that those accomodations in their IEPs are good for classroom teachers to see what to do in order to provide support. I just wish we did these things as needed and in support of a child not neccesarily because of paperwork.

    As for my crutch comment, you are correct and it is not fair for me to lump all into one bucket. In my own experience, I have seen work on both sides of that fence. I know special education teachers who do hold their students to the exact same high standards. However, I also see those that do not. You are right and I should not have lumped them all in together.

    Do you feel that some of the paperwork is to keep teachers honest in terms of supporting the kids? I would think that is some places that is the case which is sad to me.

  2. I think that we are on the same page, which excites me. Thank you for the compliment, I too see the passion in your teaching and your students are better for your outstanding commitment and abilities. I understand your frustration and I wish, like you that the supports, commitment, resources and focus given to special education was given to all students regardless of their abilities or inabilities, but you and I both know that is like screaming in a Tornado. Regretfully it all comes down to money and money in education is becoming less and less available. In a perfect world we would spend the money when it is important, when children are young and learning rather than later when we are trying to figure out what went wrong.

    As I stated previously it is refreshing to see that we are on the same page and of the same mind set. In regards to the paper work being designed to keep teachers honest and accountable, regretfully I think that yes in some instances it is. It is sad, but a reality, just like teachers having to purchase books and supplies for students. I have been doing the paper work for years and although I find it tedious, and hope that someone reads it, I use it also as a reflective element for me to see if I am doing things in the best possible method, for each individual student.

    I think though that you are right, we should not say that we are a high school teacher, elementary teacher or a special ed teacher, we are all teachers and should communicate, work and learn as such, however that is a battle that will be continued to try and be diminished long after you and I have retired.

  3. Thanks for the response…one more note as well that bothers me is when a teacher/student/parent says “special ed student”. To me they are all students with varying levels of need. In addition, I have heard they are “your” students in reference to a special education student belonging to a special education teacher. To me that is where the real BS is. They are all our students and we are all teachers! 🙂

    • I do agree stating that they are “your students referring to special education” is just as bad as labeling. I also hope there is no one out there that refuses to deal with or help a student based on the classroom they are in. That is just segregating the teacher and the student. tsk tsk.

      I do however, call my students “my students” but I think that all teachers do that and that is not what you are referring to. I think that I would be very agitated and have something to say if a colleague said “That is your student” you are very correct in saying that “They are all our Students and we are all their Teachers”

  4. The post “Special Education is BS” MORE than annoys me, and you have somehow made it into a learning and collaborating opportunity and I applaud you for it. I have commented on that post, and hope the author will approve my comment. I hope you will check it out.

    • Josh has commented, he is very open to discussion and conversation, which is great he is not only sharing his opinion. Josh and I agree on many points, but the discussion is always great, allows to open eyes and clear the air. Thank you for your comment.

  5. Morgan, I did post your comment as I do with any that comment on my blog. I value your input and knew I would get some conversation as a result of the post. I hope you saw my reply and realize that I was in no way calling the profession of special education BS. Would never dream of doing such a thing! 🙂

  6. Thanks Josh and Shawn for having this discussion. I think I got in on it because, as you both mention, many of us are passionate about our beliefs and about OUR kids. 🙂

    • We are both happy that you choose to join the discussion. The more minds and voices that are shared the more open and advantageous the outcome. I look forward to and welcome you and Josh sharing more ideas and thoughts. Thanks again for your thoughts and ideas.

  7. Well I was raised if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything well it’s a rule I use loosely and on open page like this I will try my best but I was in SLD OR SPECIAL ED FROM 2nd grade till my first year in high school I don’t know how to feel about that parts I agree with and parts are so off that I can’t believe them I graduated from high school with a 3.8 and 2 Presidential math awards and could solve math equations just as fast as my teachers could write them and I do it all in my head I do Long division from left to right and have the right answer but when I show my work or it’s on a test setting I never pass got called a cheater so many times in my school years but on the other side doing reading and writing my grammar is horrible and even to this day 30 years years old I read a paragraph with errors and my mind fixes the problems when I read them so I can never see that there is any errors and read it correctly and even add punctuation as I read it but for a million dollars I can not show what’s wrong in the paragraph my brain just auto corrects for me so I’m special but in what way at first I got treated like a slow kid and my 2nd grade teacher told my mom she needed to beat me so I would listen in her class when I was A.D.D and just couldn’t by middle school they stared to see I was far from the slow kid I just learn things different then everyone but when I learn something I master it so in high school I wanted to do it on my own with out any help I did take a test taking class that was special ed and got to take my SAT’s and other tests there if I ever needed but I think the best way to handle students that are different is to find out how they learn and teach them the tools to be in normal classes because i had to do it myself and instead of just sticking me in a class with kids with helmets and ones that couldn’t speak right and I just needed the help to find the tools to learn that fit me and now I know I have the series 7 and series 65 know to memory and before I had an accident in 2006 just 3 years out of high school and in that time I was making 170k a year and self-financed a 68k brand new sports car and set it up with CD’s to cover the cost of the car and had the interest I made paid my car payment so I didn’t cost me anything my bank or the FTC (federal trade commission) couldn’t figure out what I was doing or how I was doing it I was just moving money around so never label your students unless you want a bad reunion with them when they grow up because I went back to my 2nd grade teacher just to put her nose in it but just because some of us don’t learn the same as others shouldn’t mean they are SLD OR SPECIAL ED just means some brains are wired different I am a lot smarter now then anyone I know around my age and haven’t worked in 9 years and still doing better then most and that’s after a Chrysler seabring ran over me and dragged me almost 40ft was never going to walk again but I learned my own way to walk and only use my wheelchair for long distances everything I have done I have learned my self I am a financial and business consultant and make over 80k from my bed so you never know what you may think is slow or different now may be the next president or bill gates when they grow up if I wasn’t disabled and could go back to work full time I would be a billionaire by the time I retire so teachers please help teach the tools and different ways to learn and not just put every kid in a special class and the way kids are these days our future don’t look to good your making a bunch of sissy’s because in the real world not everyone is a winner and it’s full of bully’s so think about how your protecting them and how your taking basic lessons that date back to cavemen days away from them the strong survive and the strong picking on the weak makes the weak stronger but if they have no bully’s to fear then what happens at war time who will tell the other country to be nice and play fair THE USA IS A WORLD POWER DONT RISES THESE YOUNG KIDS TO BE USELESS TO PROTECT IT
    IM GLAD I HAD BULLYS AND GOT PICKED ON SO IT WASNT SUCH A SHOCK WHEN I HAD MY FIRST BLANK BLANK BOSS THAT YELLED AT ME OR CALLED ME NAMES

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