Not So Special Anymore

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos
Image via Wikipedia

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?

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9 Responses to Not So Special Anymore

  1. Simonne Mildenstein says:

    I know exactly how you feel. I too was a special education teacher that taught a few general education classes. One bit of advice I would like to give you is to try and look at each new experience as an opportunity to learn and become a better teacher. All students can benefit by our example of being lifelong learners. The lessons you will learn as a general education teacher will strengthen your abilities in the special education classroom. Also how blessed the general students will be to have a teacher who truly understands how to meet needs and differentiate in the classroom. Be open to change- embrace the opportunity and you will do well!

    • Deven Black says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Simonne. I do embrace every new learning experience I can grasp and I frequently tell my students that I will learn far more from them than they will learn from me.

      I remain torn between the excitement of learning yet another new grade curriculum and doing the same thing consistently for a couple of years to get a deeper understanding of the material.

      I am looking forward to my new year with the same apprehension I feel as every new school year approaches; its just differently focused.

  2. Dear Deven
    I loved reading your post. Your questions and doubts are the clearest proof and guarantee that your students are going to have a great time in your social studies classes.
    I’m looking forward to reading about your (doubtless positive) experiences in your new classes.

  3. Michael J says:

    I still remember the ads for Cheers, probably the most famous pop culture bar in history. It was a place “where everyone knew your name.’

    When I was in the classroom back in the day I brought in a Polaroid camera. Job one was taking everyone’s picture. On the back they would print their names. I treated the photos as flashcards. In a couple of days even I was able to mostly get it.

    These days a digital camera plus a printer should work almost as well.

  4. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Deven, you will remember their names, and you will be able to make them feel special. Don’t worry.

    You are a very special teacher, and those kids are lucky to have you!

  5. Deven,

    I teach K-6th grades (about 500 students total since I don’t teach all of the classes), so if anyone knows the fear of remembering names, it would be me! The amazing thing is that it just ‘happens.’ I make a point of connecting with my students on a personal level, which helps in remembering their names and their personalities. IT WILL HAPPEN! You might struggle with the names at first, but that’s normal.

    I know from reading your blog and discussing topics with you that you also get to know your students on a personal level. For this reason, a doubling or tripling of class size won’t make a difference.

    Just having a conversation with a student one on one is showing them that they are special without ever saying the words. Kids feel special when they are acknowledged as people, not just students in a classroom.

    I also use assigned seats in my lab and I have a seating chart–that helps me remember 🙂

    Good luck and keep us posted!

  6. Deven Black says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Mary Beth. I’m less worried about learning the names than I am about remembering my schedule. No two days are the same, and that includes lunch times.

    I am incredibly eager to get into any of the three classrooms I’ll be using, especially the two I’ll be sharing, and start claiming space.

    I look forward to meeting you face-to-face in January.

    • Kate Tabor says:

      The schedule! The school that I teach at has no two days the same. It’s been 12 years now, and you just roll with it. In part this is so we don’t always see the same children at 8:15 or right before the end of the school day. I teach 7th grade, and what it takes to be a MS Spec Ed teacher is the same stuff needed for gen ed. MS teachers know the way to a emerging adolescent’s heart is by treating them like they are there. The names will come. And I agree with Mary Beth about seating charts. NO middle school child should have to worry about where they are sitting in English or Math or Social Studies. The social pressure is already way too high. Really, it’s a win-win.
      Glad to have found you and your blog.

  7. Ah yes, the dreaded schedule! I post mine right behind my desk usually, but in my new location I don’t have a corkboard behind my desk! I definitely screw up in the beginning of the year–forgetting that I have to pick a class up or take one to lunch, or picking up the wrong class in the morning.

    I look forward to meeting you in January, too! I’m trying to get my principal to use PD funds to pay for it. Philly teachers get a tiny discount.

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