My teaching life is changing again.
Every year I get a new teaching assignment. Up till now, no mater how different each assignment would be, they’ve all had something in common: they’ve all been teaching special education students.
Starting September, all that will change. I will still be teaching special education students using Scholastic’s Read 180 program, but I will also be teaching social studies to two general education classes, one 6th grade and the other 8th grade.
I am entering my sixth year of teaching, my fourth in a middle school, and I should be pretty fearless about entering any classroom by now, but this new assignment has me on edge.
Most of my anxiety is centered on class size. I’m used to having classes of no more than 12 students. My general ed classes are likely to have more than twice as many,
I know. I sound like a wimp.
After all, teachers in certain third world countries often have 70 or more students in classes.
But they don’t have to worry about making the mayor look good by constantly raising test scores. I wish my mayor worried about students learning useful skills and other important stuff, but that is fodder for another blog post. This one is about not feeling special anymore.
I’m not worried about my not feeling special anymore. I will admit that there is a certain undeserved cachet connected to being a middle school special education teacher. I say undeserved because the people who assign cachet to the job think I teach maniacal children running through the halls throwing desks.
The truth is, that hardly ever happens.
I spent twenty-five years in the bar business before becoming a special education teacher. I tell people who now don’t see how I can be excited about going to work every day that my students are much easier to deal with than my bar customers were.
As difficult as my students get at times, they are sober.
I’m not worried about my not being special but I am worried about my students not feeling special.
I don’t like the idea of putting labels on students but I work in a system that constantly does it so I’ve tried to adapt. My adaptation has been to do my utmost to make my students feel special in all the ways the education system tries to convince them they are not.
I tell them they are smart.
I tell them they are talented.
I tell them they are distinctive, exceptional, exclusive, extraordinary, select, individual, memorable, and unique. ,
I tell them that most of the difficulties that they have with school are more about school than about them.
I let my students know that there is at least one pretty smart adult who believes in them, and that I also do.
My worry is that I will not be able to do as much for each individual student when I have twice as many students.
I’m worried that I/ won’t remember all those names.
How can I help all those students feel special if I can’t even remember their names?