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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I Teach the Future Leaders...and Future Criminals...of the World"

Sorry for the brief hiatus. Things at the current job have been mildly stressful, though not in the way one would expect Special Education to be stressful. In the space of five months I have had 5 new Special Ed referrals which means loads of testing, loads of meetings, and writing Individualized Education Plans from scratch; plus a few triennial re-evals, which means loads of testing, loads of meetings, and revising IEPs. Not to mention all the paperwork I'm normally responsible for such as modifying work and staying after with my kids to help with their homework. So needless to say I've gotten very little done in any other aspect of my life. My sink is a giant mountain of dirty dishes, there's cat food and toys everywhere, and I haven't put my laundry away in almost two weeks. I'm eating Ramen noodles for dinner while the cat stares at me like I've grown another head.

I got an email the other day from one of my former co-workers who is actually still at the DarkSide which now makes him the most senior member of the staff. It's an amazing accomplishment really when you think about the statistics. When I first started there, I was told that the average length of stay for a teacher was 7 months though one guy had left on his second day. He went out for a cigarette at lunch and just never came back.

Though none of this really surprises me. When you work in a residential it feels much like working on an alien planet. None of the normal rules apply anymore and you find yourself, more often than not, reinventing the wheel. Unfortunately, it seems that many public school teachers feel that teaching in a residential doesn't count as "real" teaching, which also does not surprise me since I find that most people in the field don't truly understand what goes on in a residential besides of course all the crazy behavior and chaotic destruction.

Within the first few months of my being at the DarkSide, the education director decided to accept a job elsewhere. She was quickly followed by just about every one of her friends who had been hired through the beauty of nepotism. That left us without an Ed. Director, a shift supervisor, a staff supervisor, a few residence directors, and various other random individuals. Shortly thereafter, the vice principal suffered a nervous breakdown. Then mere weeks later the Vice President of the entire shebang ditched out. Where did that leave us? Well, I'll tell you. It left us holding the bag with no administration whatsoever. We were missing at least 6 teachers in order to consider ourselves a full staff and we suddenly had zero funding.

Here I was, a fairly seasoned teacher, up to my ass in crazy, ready to pull my hair out because... well because the place was falling apart. My classroom had 9 boys in it, and each of those 9 boys were on a different intellectual level. I had some who, at the age of 14, still couldn't even read and write their own name; but on the other side of the coin I had Nick who could do advanced trig and quote every major 20th Century author. Every afternoon when I sat down to plan for the next day, I found myself writing 9 separate lesson plans, including Social Skills and occasionally phys ed on the days when the gym teacher wasn't available. I was also trying to navigate through textbooks that were printed in 1963. It's difficult to teach history and geography when the books and maps still list the USSR as a major super power. On top of that, we didn't even have the minimum budget for buying normal everyday supplies. I found myself showing up at Target with a tax exempt number in one hand and a letter in the other, begging them to donate supplies to my classroom. I started begging my friends who were teaching in public schools to lend me their text books to photocopy. I would go to Barnes and Noble with my mom and write down lesson ideas from the books I couldn't afford.

Essentially I was learning how to not only be a more effective teacher by differentiating my instruction for all these different levels in one room, but I was learning how to be an effective teacher of Social Skills, an effective interim counselor for the times when the kids were in crisis and their counselors weren't available, and becoming skilled at physically managing behavior. Oh, and I was trying not to get killed. Everyday was a new adventure. Take for instance the day I was walking up from the basement when one of my TAs came running to find me because one of the girls had gone face first through a plate glass window. Or the time I was on vacation in NY and I got a call that one of the students had carjacked a staff member at knife point, only to be caught by the cops at the bottom of the hill because he realized he had never learned how to drive.

And somehow, I can honestly say I miss that world. I miss the day to day fight to feed these kids intellectually and emotionally. And though this post is obviously devoid of the normal level of humor, I just had to get all that out since I've been mulling over a lot of this lately as I wonder where in the hell I want my career to go in the next few years. So thanks for reading, thanks to those of you who comment occasionally, and please... comment more. I love hearing from all of you, friend and foe alike.


  1. Hang in there! every job has there stressful moments...and teaching is right there on the top of that list!! ...without a doubt you've had your share of stresses! ...just remember that no matter how tough the day gets the end you’re making a positive impact with the kids! ...every time you step into that classroom! :)

    “ Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyways.”

    btw.....this blog rocks!!!

    - Anonymous

  2. I love your blog! I have a son in Special Ed in a public school and I LOVE reading your stories. Hang in there, you're doing great!!!