Friday, November 13, 2015

Teaching vs. Paperwork

Many years ago I went back to school to get certified to teach special education. In the U.S. teaching certification credentials are given by each state, but much of special education consists of following ....  federal laws! So a majority of the class time was focused on learning the national laws that apply to this field. What I received for my time and money was a brief overview of the various teaching methods one might use in the various types of special education, and an in-depth study of the federal laws that apply to special education students.

When I completed the course of study and satisfied the other requirements, I decided to look for a job. After checking out several public schools I decided to teach in a private school. Why? Because at that time I wasn't not impressed at the working conditions for special education in public schools. Most of the resource rooms I checked out consisted of many children going in and out while the resource teacher (also expected to deal with behavior problems that might arise in other classrooms) helped them with modified work. There was very little time for remediation and interruptions were more common than those in the regular classroom. I am sure there were some excellent resource rooms out there, but obviously the teachers in those situations decided to stay put. I spend almost ten years in a private school for children with learning differences. My classes never exceeded eleven students. When I started working at that private school the focus was on the children's needs, and the school had a successful record of remediation as well as modifications.

Special education in the public school still seems to have its problems. This article attributes the difficulty in finding and keeping special education teachers to  the large amount of paperwork required.  People who love to teach seldom make enough money to hire an admin assistant. That causes the reams of paperwork that accompany teaching a child under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to fall into the teacher's workload. It also means that the teacher realizes that if anyone may be sued, due to a parent's dissatisfaction on how their child is being or not being taught, it usually includes the teacher. This is one reason certification for special education focuses on how to fill out paperwork rather than how to teach. Finally large amounts of paperwork and meetings are two reasons that many qualified teachers (teachers who may have been excellent at working with children with special needs) leave the field fairly quickly. Thus schools find themselves unable to comply with the federal mandate requiring certified special educators.

Because of the establishment of  IDEA there are many children receiving an education in public school who would have been sent home 50 years ago. There is a now place in schools for children with physical, mental, emotional, and learning differences. There is an expectation that these children can learn.  But in an effort to be all things to all children the in-the-trenches art of teaching is being watered down. I understand the need for paperwork in an attempt to insure that the intent of the law is followed - although many a parent with an excellent Individual Education Plan (IEP) in their file cabinet will tell you that they doubt that the plan is really being followed. But an over abundance of paperwork, schedules, and due dates means that less attention can be giving to the act of teaching. Good teachers lose the joy of teaching, good schools find themselves unable to meet federal mandates for certified special education teachers, and students . . . well, too many students find themselves unable to read the paperwork that assures them their individual needs will be met.

No comments:

Post a Comment