Yay! It is summer! This is the first summer I am taking completely off since embarking on my teaching career over ten years ago. Every year I worked to supplement my income, furthered my education and/or prepared for the next school year during the summer. I am not complaining, I did take vacations during the summer with my family. I just never took the summer off like some of my colleagues. A great number of my colleagues do like I did and work to supplement their income during the summer. This summer, though, is different. Even though I am still having some difficulty turning it completely off, hence this blog, I am going without an agenda. I am travelling, exploring places I have not been to before, meeting interesting people and experiencing life as I go. I know this doesn’t sound like a destination vacation, but I am in Iowa. I have already enjoyed local cuisine and visited some of the nearby sites, including Maquoketa Caves. Who knew there were caves in the middle of cornfields? Later this summer I am heading to the northeast for a family event and I will get to visit New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. I can’t wait. I would love to hear from fellow educators who are enjoying their summer. Where are you going? What are you doing?
What is FAPE and why is it important in regards to inclusion? According to the website ADA.gov, Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an educational right of children with disabilities in the United States that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). What does that really mean? IDEA actually requires public schools to provide an education to all students regardless of the disability in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate for the student’s individual needs. That definition has been generalized to the extent that parents often expect their child to receive their education being fully included in a “general education” setting with all typical developed students. Don’t get me wrong I am a strong believer in inclusion. But inclusion for the sake of being included is not an effective use of time and resources being used in the education process of a student with special needs. (More on my beliefs about inclusion at another date)
According to the article by Laura McKenna, “Is the Bar too low for Special education?” dated January 24, 2017 in The Atlantic, special education in the United States is on the cusp of transformation. This transformation is sparked by court cases where parents are holding public schools accountable for a higher standard of education that is more equivalent to that of general education. Honestly, too many times, special education classrooms are dumping ground not only for students not being successful in general education but also old and outdated materials and supplies. This may not be the case in all special education classrooms, but all too often it is the “norm.” Public schools across the country must set standards for all students including students with special needs. The issue primarily comes to funding. One student with special needs utilizes staffing resources and financial resources equivalent to that of several typical developed students. A student with special needs may require special equipment for seating, staff with special training, such as licensed speech therapists and occupational therapists, special equipment for communication, such as a voice output device, and a paraprofessionals to monitor behavior and provide a safe environment above and beyond what the classroom teacher can provide. Schools in rural communities or low-income communities have a nearly impossible task of providing for the needs of all special education. There is no one size fits all when it comes to special education.
Now to add insult to injury, HR 610, which has been introduced under our new administration, will lead to even more changes. The verdict is still out if these changes will be beneficial to students with special needs, but the outlook is not hopeful. Even more money is going to be pulled from public schools and rerouted to private schools. In some communities this may be great for the students involved. My growing fear is public schools are going to be forced even more to balance their district budgets at the expense of students with special needs. For me, all of this sums up to be more stress, increased unrealistic expectations with less resources. How do you feel about FAPE and the changes to special education?
As a special education teacher, I always feel like I serve two masters. One of general education and one of special education. I feel like I am constantly balancing between doing everything required by general education and my campus administration and everything required by special education and the district administration. I am the only teacher on my campus for a classroom like mine, so I am like an island. I look forward to and seek out opportunities to collaborate with other special education teachers. It is difficult for general education teachers to relate to what I do all day long. My students have significant deficits and even though they are chronologically 11 to 14, they may be developmentally between 2 years old to 8 years old. Sometimes, I think they believe I am a babysitter, which is insulting. I did have a coworker ask me and I quote, “Can your students learn?” Needless to say, I was floored. I did have a professional response, all the while thinking “Are you kidding me?”
Fortunately, I am in a large school district with a great deal of resources available to me and my students. There are also other special education teachers with classrooms just like mine and district instructional specialists who are available to collaborate with.
My challenges rest in the fact that our time is limited and most of us are stretched thin with all that is demanded of us. Even if those demands are sometimes self-imposed because we care so much about the success of our students.
My name is Ann Valenzon. I am a teacher for students with special needs. I have been in the classroom for more than 10 years now in a variety of settings from kindergarten to 8th grade. Through the years, there have been a lot of challenges and a great deal of successes. My unofficial motto is “no challenge to big, no victory to small.” I am starting this blog to be real and give not only insight into my classroom, but also a broader perspective.
In researching blogs, I started reading several blogs related to education and more specifically, special education. I found one that I related to more than others. The teacher like me has been teaching for a while. And like me she is feeling a little burn out. I keep hoping this burn out I am feeling is related to the rapidly approaching summer not the education field itself!!
I want to use this blog as a tool to recharge my love for education. I am hopeful to make changes in special education, impact my students to success and to inspire other educators. I want to share my knowledge of skills and strategies of educating in the classroom and transform myself into an educational consultant and FAPE coordinator.