Don Peek – Prinicipals: Do You Have Quality Special Education Teachers?

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.

 

Prinicipals: Do You Have Quality Special Education Teachers?

I never wanted to be a special education teacher. I don’t know if I simply didn’t have the patience or maybe I just never thought I would be good at it. I do remember having special education students mainstreamed into my classroom and not really knowing how to handle them. I was really young when I started teaching (only 20 years old), and when I look back, I know I didn’t do a very good job even with my regular education students. I know I must have failed my special education students miserably.

Because I had a degree in English and I could see how severe the reading problems were in my school, I did gravitate to Title 1 reading. I think both my patience and my ability to reach these students increased the longer I taught in that Title 1 classroom, and I probably did a much better job with all of my students when I went back to the regular classroom to teach.

After eight years, I became an assistant principal. I also became an advocate for special education students, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many ARD meetings I attended over the next 10 years as either an assistant principal or a principal. I did my best to make sure each student’s IEP was the right one for that student. It didn’t matter if it dealt with discipline or the actual academic program of the student, I was involved and I, wanted the right decisions made, not just for the meeting to be over so we could start the next one.

Another thing I learned during my first 15 years in education was that many principals, especially old-school principals, were not good at hiring and firing teachers. They didn’t spend enough time in interviews, and they didn’t do enough checking on background and references. Probably the worst practice I saw during this time was that of moving inadequate teachers to different positions rather than letting them go.

The very worst practices that I saw at that time were the moving of teachers who failed to cut it in the regular classroom to the position of special education teacher or librarian. I’ve heard the excuse a hundred times if I’ve heard it once, “They can’t do the job in the regular classroom, so we’ll move them to a position that has the least impact on the smallest number of students.” That logic drove me crazy then, and it drives me crazy now. Sure those teachers had to go back to school and get certification to stay in the special education position, but that usually helped the situation very little.

Even though I know teachers who do a wonderful job in the library, I believe only good, certified librarians should be in charge of a library. And, boy oh boy, in a special education classroom, you need the best, the most highly trained and certified, and the most patient teachers in the school. If you don’t fill those positions with those kinds of teachers, you’re looking for disaster, and you’re likely to find it.

Not only that, you are cheating special education students out of a solid education that they probably need more than any other students in the schoolhouse. Why anyone would put a person who was ineffective in a regular classroom in charge of a special education classroom is beyond me.

Principals, if a teacher can’t cut it, do your job. Do the observations, take the notes, write the letters. Move those teachers out. Don’t move them where they will hurt children even more than they were in a regular classroom.

Yes, I’m on my soapbox. I’ll admit that. But once you’ve seen this happen through the years over and over and over, it starts to work on you. You feel really sorry for the great special education teachers and the wonderful librarians who are extraordinarily capable at their jobs, and you develop great sympathy for the special education students who are so negatively impacted by these decisions and who have little voice or power to get the situation corrected.

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Grant Info:

 

Grant Name: Dreyfus Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis for museums, cultural, performing, and visual arts programs, schools, hospitals, educational and skills training projects, and programs for youth, seniors, and people who are handicapped. No grants to individuals and no support for foreign charitable organizations.

Program Areas: Arts, General Education, Handicapped, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies

Recipients: Public School, Private School, Higher Ed, Other

Proposal Deadline: 11/10/12

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Telephone: 202-337-3300

Website: http://www.mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Availability: All States

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