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Turning Concerns Into Solutions


Senior Member
In my district, we have a separate teachers' union committee to address problems within special education. Originally, it was called the Special Education Concerns Committee. After a few years, the POWERS THAT BE complained that the name implies a forum for griping, and not an outlet for coming up with answers to the problems we face. So, this year it was renamed the Special Education Solutions Committee at the request of our special ed. administrators. From my experience so far though, they should have renamed it the Special Education Teachers Come Up With Solutions But the Special Education Administrators Deny There is a Problem Committee.<!--break-->

One of the problems we always seem to face in the elementary self-contained classes is a consistent distribution of students. We never seem to be on the same page as far as number of students, severity of needs and tools to get the job done. You can have identical classes across the district, but one will have five more students than the other, a higher percentage of children who need one-on-one attention and fewer assets (materials, support and classroom space) to deal with them.

This always seems to come to a head during the school year when new students are identified and placed within our classes. Our case managers don't really have a clue when they place a child what kind of environment exists in that classroom to begin with. I'm fairly sure that they only slightly look at numbers, and then really don't care as long as they're placing the child as close to that home school as possible. It's frustrating.

I've been on both sides of this dilemma over the years. I've had years where other teachers have complained about getting a new child and I know that I should have received the newbie because my class size and severity is half of the other teacher's. I've also had situations where I get a new child (with baggage) and another teacher's class has about seven fewer children and a lot less need to deal with.

Now, let's face it. There isn't a teacher out there, regular or special educator who is going to be thrilled about getting another student at any time during the school year. That's a given, but we make the best of it. What is frustrating about this in the world of the self-contained classes is the oblivious nature by which it is done.

In a nutshell, the people who are making the decisions have no clue what our classes are like. They are either people who have never taught an elementary special education class, haven't been in one in quite some time, and/or now suffer from the Pseudo-Administrative Lobotomy (see my other blog posts for that one). All kidding aside, the people who are making these decisions NEVER set foot in our classrooms! How can they make an informed decision of placement when they've never been there?

I will give kudos when they are due. When my case manager started a couple of years back, she was in my classroom a lot. She knew my students and their limitations because she was in my classroom for a few hours every week. Those days are over. I'm fairly certain that the POWERS THAT BE have loaded on the responsibility to the extent that she no longer has time to even consider coming in any more, which leads us to our current problem.

So, it occurred to me that if our case managers no longer had the time (though they should make the time in all honesty) to observe our classrooms, we should at least have the general make up of our classes down on paper for them to review before they make the decision to place a student anywhere in the district.

I came up with a form that will allow teachers to list the students' individual needs in order to give our case managers an idea of the effort it takes to make our classes successful. In short, it should give them the idea of how thin we are spread at any given time during the school year. The idea behind this is to allow them to place a student in the best possible situation. After all, what good would it do to place a student in a class where the teacher is spread so thin he/she can barely make it as it is? It's adding insult to injury. The best possible scenario is to place that child in the class with the least amount of need based on their class size. That sounds like a solution to me.

Now comes the ironic part. The same people who complained about the difference between a concerns committee and a solutions committee are the ones who want to shoot down a solution we have come up with by denying it's a problem.

When we had a good working draft of our Instructional Classroom Needs Assessment, I sent it to our elementary classes supervisor for her input, and to put it on the agenda for our next monthly meeting. What I received in return was the comment that she had already explained, "how students are placed" in the program and that since our program is cross-categorical, it is the nature of the beast to have many different levels of students in one class. Well, our supervisor misses the point on that one. It's not the fact there are different levels of need, it's the distribution of that need in a fair and consistent manner across the district that we're trying to address.

So, after a little pushiness, I was able to get our solution on the agenda a couple months from now. I must admit that I'm looking for the walls of defensiveness to be sufficiently high on the administrative side. Unfortunately, before we can solve a problem, you have to admit to the problem. As it stands with administration now, there isn't a problem, so that will be our first goal.

I will keep you all updated.
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