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Special Ed Stories from the Front Lines

Share your Special Education issues, ideas and concerns as they relate to the classroom. The stories we collect from CTA members will help us to develop a network of like-minded educators with similar issues for collaboration.  Send your stories to webmaster@cta.org.  Please key "Special Ed Story" in the subject area, and please be sure to include your full name, your school site, and your local association.

Catherine Prentice
San Bernardino County Teachers Association
Alta Loma High School

It is hard for me to become highly qualified because they changed the requirements on me after I had already become “highly qualified.” Back in 2002, I was told by my district that I could get “highly qualified” in Health Science since I teach special education, so I did just that. About a year later, I was told that I had to take the CSET multiple subject test. I have attempted this test five times but have only passed the Art, Music, Health, and PE sections, leaving two more sections to pass. This test has NOTHING to do with my day-to-day teaching. My students are moderate to severe special ed. I have many students in diapers (keep in mind, these are high school kids). Nine out of 10 of them cannot speak, and the ones who can, cannot hold a conversation. My verbal students are echolalic. For me to have to pass a test in Math, Science, Language Arts and History to be considered qualified to teach these students is just absurd. Although I do language arts and math in my classroom, it is all basic concepts (adding single-digit numbers, matching colors). Having once been considered highly qualified, I do not think that the district should be able to take that away from me. They are the ones that told me my options. I completed one of the options, and then it was taken from me because Health is no longer considered a core subject. This is ridiculous!

One thing that I find ironic is that I am a college professor, I hold an Education Specialist credential, and I have a master’s degree in education. How is it that I can be qualified to teach soon-to-be teachers but not individuals who are in diapers? It doesn’t make sense, now does it? NCLB is ruining education, not helping it.

Debi Lindberg
Garden Grove Education Association
Eisenhower Elementary

Special ed teachers are absolutely not given adequate time for IEP meetings and documentation. We have been bargaining for this for years, but the district won’t budge. We continue to have more responsibilities, paperwork, and workload, which all adds up to more hours outside of contract hours. RtI is a real concern, since more students (general education and special education) are added to our classes and caseloads, with no caps and no additional preparation time.

Nanci Smith
Nevada Union High School Teachers Association
Bear River High School

Meeting the qualifications of a highly qualified teacher under NCLB is definitely an issue for special education teachers at the middle and secondary school levels. Even though I had the opportunity to be certified using HOUSSE, many new teachers just graduating from college are not given the appropriate education to become special educators in the middle and high school settings. Whose responsibility is this? Do the legislators just sit in their ivory towers and hand down the law without instituting a plan to meet the expectations? It is ridiculous to have a special education teacher with a single subject credential teaching content that is not at grade level. It limits the instructors’ abilities and expertise in what special education was designed for. A multiple subject credential builds the foundation of skills across all curricular areas and provides a base of strategies for teachers, enabling them to offer students who lack reading and math fundamentals an opportunity in general education. We are specialists who come with a “bag of tricks” in providing students access to a free and appropriate public education. This entails knowledge in multiple subjects and strategies in differentiated instruction. The bureaucratic reasoning escapes me. No Child Left Behind is an oxymoron designed by morons, who, in the end, are leaving the child behind.

I am not given adequate time for any aspect of my job. I often juggle a thousand tasks in one day. These include teaching, modifying assignments, teaching, attending IEP meetings, teaching, consulting with general education teachers, teaching, advising a school club, teaching, sitting in on committees, teaching, designing lessons, teaching, attending conferences and professional growth on content and disability information, and the list goes on. I am given one prep period to “prep” for my classes (which includes everything from kindergarten to high school curriculum). This “prep” period is mostly spent helping students that would otherwise not have their needs met, so when do I complete all these tasks? Easy to answer — on my own TIME — after school, before school, lunch, at home in the evenings, and on weekends. I think TIME is the key aspect for all educators. As the legislators and the lawyers review the IEP process with a fine-toothed comb, looking for ways to make it easier, but making it harder, they are taking teachers away from the true reason they are there — to teach the child. I spend so much time filling out paperwork, reporting on goals, keeping logs of data, documenting behavior, and making sure that I have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, that there is no TIME. TIME is always taken and never returned. I do not expect the time to be returned because I love what I do. I love teaching. I love the light in the child’s eyes when he understands, the hugs and thanks on graduation, and the moments in the classroom that are never the same. Those are what keep me in the profession. It is not whether I can fill out my paperwork to perfection to keep the litigators and loophole seekers off my back. If that is their lot in life — to find the one mistake where one box on the IEP does not match with the other thousand boxes — then so be it. I do not know if TIME would solve this issue because this would mean more TIME away from the students — the one and only reason for all that we do.

Jim Garrett
Hesperia Teachers Association
Hesperia High School

It is very difficult for a special ed teacher to become “highly qualified.” Teaching multiple subjects and changing subjects taught has made it impossible to be highly qualified. The district wants you to be highly qualified in every subject taught. This is especially difficult for the new special educator who is still taking classes for a clear credential in special education.

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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