Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Education for Educators

Wow it's been a long time since I posted on here!  I can hardly believe it's been since January.  Unbelievable.  Anyway, today I was reading over my Facebook page as is typical when an article a friend had posted caught my eye.  Being a staunch advocate for children, I watched the entire video.  Here it is:


I'm terrible with links, so forgive me, but hopefully you can access it.

In it, a father of an autistic child talks about his struggles in trying to figure out why his normally pleasant child was exploding at school.  After several attempts of working with the school in utter frustration, he wired his child so he could hear the conversations that took part during the day.  What he discovered was teachers and aides making cruel and abusive statements to his son, several of which causing the child to cry and eventually lose control.

The father is, in all fairness, furious with the way his child has been treated, and the fact that all but one teacher/aide have been moved into other schools in his son's school system.  As a parent of a child who has special needs and has been the victim of verbal abuse, my heart bled for him.  There is nothing more painful than hearing that a teacher has told your child he is dumb, a waste of time, or, in this father's case, a "bastard".

As a teacher, my heart also ached.  I could not imagine ever saying such things to the children I worked with.  Even at the times I have been most strained, most challenged, I have always refrained from verbal abuse.  In my opinion, children carry those words with them for a long time, because they came from a powerful source—the all powerful,  all knowing teacher.  Teachers MUST be aware of the power they have, and exercise it with utmost caution at all times.

However, as a teacher educator, I see this situation differently.  I understand the father's frustration, anger, and devastation.  But I place that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the administration and school board of this particular school.  Special education is a particularly difficult aspect of education, and teachers MUST be educated appropriately in how to deal with a variety of diagnoses.  More and more, we are seeing self-contained classrooms with autistic children.  This means these teachers must be trained appropriately in all aspects of autism.  Children with autism are capable of learning a wide variety of skills, but they will always be autistic.  Teachers must know how to coax those skills out of these children while understanding the limitations each child may have.

In addition, schools should be doing regular observations of teachers, even if they're informal.  Knowing that the principal is going to be randomly popping in is much more likely to keep everyone on the up and up.  It's human nature.  If you know your classroom has an open door and anyone could be coming in, you're much more likely to keep yourself in check, even if you're more given to frustration.

And that's the final crux of the issue:  frustration tolerance.  In my opinion, frustration in teaching most often stems from a lack of understanding of the child's processes.  If you understand that it's ridiculous to expect a three year old to read, you won't get frustrated when she points at pictures and labels them.  If you understand that a down's syndrome child is more likely to be stubborn, you will expect to guide him to his chair more than once.  That's not to say nobody ever gets tired of guiding a kid to a chair.  But it is to say that the expectation is more appropriate.  Teachers who struggle with this kind of frustration need more support and education, or else they need another job.

Administration owes it to teachers to support them in the classroom to do developmentally appropriate, humane teaching.  They owe it to teaching staff to help solve problems rather than ignoring them, or in worst case scenarios, bullying teachers into being forced to manage difficult situations with no support at all.  A strong administration can make a huge difference in how these situations are handled.

The bottom line, despite all of these scenarios, is that parents must advocate for their children.  Although some might think this father went overboard, he discovered the reason his son was unable to succeed in school and ensured his child emotional safety.  In the end, the only person who is going to love your child as much as you do is YOU.  Parents need to keep their eyes and ears open and trust their guts.

And that, my friends, is my two cents for the day!

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