Neva Fenno, M.S. Ed., MLIS
I usually write articles with a positive slant, “5 Great Ways to Have a Happy Year”, things like that. This time, I want to tell a cautionary tale. It’s early enough in the school year, so it may resonate, especially among new SPED teachers.
My first SPED teaching job (for pay) was in a closet in a large urban school district in Massachusetts. The school was bursting at the seams with new students so the administration needed to find new space. There were quonset huts and classroom trailers in the parking lot, and for my classroom, closet space was borrowed in the old Victorian house next door. My resource room was on the second floor, in a large closet off a bedroom. There were racks of clothes pushed up against the windows (I called Good Will), and a pervasive smell of “old man”. In an adjoining bedroom, a young man had rented some space and set up electronic equipment to contact beings from outer space. I am not making this up. Through the walls, you could hear bleeps and burps as he tuned his equipment and aimed to the skies in search of alien beings.
My job was to test and teach children who were referred for special education and reading instruction. I would walk over to the main building, collect my chickadees, and bring them back to my closet. It turned into a reasonable rhythm and I’m still always amazed at the adaptability of young teachers, and kids for that matter.
I had, however, the unfortunate habit of becoming a hermit in my own little SPED world. Cut off from the general school population (least restrictive environment?), it was easy to hunker down, do my job, and make no effort to become part of the larger school community. I was often ignored by the administration; they were just happy to be in compliance with the numbers, but it only served to isolate us even more. It kept me out of the loop when supplies were being distributed, but that was the least of it.
As the year wore on, I became something of an automaton, fulfilling my duties, but with no joy and no inclusion. Most teachers in the main building had no idea who I was. I began to believe in alien beings; at least I was able to strike up a decent relationship with the UFO hunter next door. He agreed to tone down the bleeps and burps during school hours. It helped to lessen the already epic distractibility I was dealing with among my ADHD kids. In some ways it was a good experience, a trial by fire, and a way to learn how not to do many things.
It was not good for my career, however. I lasted only one year and was blamed for many of the SPED deficiencies the district found in our neighborhood school. Please keep in mind this was a very long time ago and the school department now would never allow such a situation to exist.
There is a takeaway from this story. Don’t isolate yourself. Throw yourself enthusiastically into every activity your school is organizing. Be sure to eat lunch with other teachers. Frequent the teacher’s room. Find ways to socialize with your colleagues. If this is hard for you, just remember, it’s really better for the kids.
Let me know how you’re doing, and don’t ever hesitate to ask questions. I am a virtual treasure of information on methods of contacting alien beings.
The Teacher as Researcher Educational Grant
International Reading Association (IRA)
The Teacher as Researcher Grant supports classroom teachers in their inquiries about literacy and instruction. The ILA Teacher as Researcher Grant study may be carried out using any research method or approach as long as the focus is on reading/writing or literacy. Activities such as developing new programs or instructional materials are not eligible for funding unless these activities are necessary for conducting the research.
Professional Development, Reading.
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