This week was terrible. Not in a "I'm so tired and stressed out from all the assessments and/or PD I had to complete this week" or even a "Yikes! My kid's were really unfocused and now I have to reteach everything again next week" kind of week. No - this week was one of those weeks where I am questioning my "calling" as an educator. I really, truly hate to admit that. I hate feeling stressed out every, single weeknight. I hate that I came home last night and cried on my couch for 2 hours before surrendering to my bed at 8 pm. I hate even more that I left my old job for this position. I feel like I made a mistake...
To give you a little context, here is the back story of my journey. I worked for 3 years as a special educator in a therapy school for students with behavioral, social/emotional, and neurological disorders. These students had significant challenges, ranging from learning disabilities, to conduct disorders, and traumatic brain injury. All of these children had a history of behavioral challenges that limited their functioning in a "regular" school - thus, their least-restrictive environment was our school- State funded, sub-separate, Out-of-District Placement school in Boston. It was a high-anxiety environment, with a high turnover rate. The kids were challenging. The behaviors were challenging. But, I loved it. I felt that the school was designed for meeting the needs of these students, and that my ideas were valuable. I felt that I could contribute to the well-being of my students by voicing my opinions, attempting new strategies, and asking for help. It was a team-approach, and I don't think many schools can honestly say that. Sure, schools can say we work together as a team, but is that really true? Each of my students had a TEAM of people working for his/her benefit- this team included me as the Special Educator, my Assistant Teacher, my Milieu Counselor, his/her Case Manager, any specialists (SLP, OT, Reading, Math), parents, and any additional staff (often times we would have a an administrator as part of our team, such as the educational supervisor, behavioral supervisor, principal, clinical direction, milieu director, or program director). It was a huge team effort! I won't lie - sometimes it was definitely too many cooks in the kitchen. And honestly, after some of these meetings, I would leave feeling less prepared, and more frustrated than before it started. But, I soon found out that there are FAR worse environments out there for teachers...
Additionally, I had friends at this job. I know, I know...that is not the point of our occupation - just a bonus. However, have you ever had the worst day of your life in your current position, and talking to a colleague about it turns your day around? Having a team working with a particularly challenging student was so helpful during these times, because I knew I wasn't alone. The frustrations and stress I was feeling, was being felt by others too! We could talk, collaborate, or even just bitch about the situation (often down at the local pub on Friday afternoons), and I could go home and move on with my night, instead of dwelling on it all weekend, making myself sick with stress and worry, or completely shut myself off from the world (all of these are issues I am currently working on...). Those friendships were the reason I would wake up after a terrible day the day before, and trudge on into work. I knew my Littles were counting on me, but I also had people I could count on too. We need that love and support just as much as our Little Learners do.
After a particularly tumultuous school year last year, with a deteriorating team, many administrative shifts, and overall, a toxic work environment, I resigned from my position in June of 2013. It was a natural time for me to transition, so it did not come as a major surprise to my colleagues or team. I had just graduated from Simmons College with my Masters in ABA and was getting married in less than a week. While I knew the reasons I was leaving the program, my colleagues viewed this as a natural transition into a new teaching experience. I hadn't lined up a new job yet, but was eager to get the ball rolling. With my licensure in Moderate Disabilities, my Masters in ABA, and my experience with behavior and students with a variety of disabilities, I was confident I would find a job.
I did. After a summer of job interviews, portfolio building, and Thank You letter-writing, I nailed a job in my town. I talked myself up in the interview, highlighting my strengths, and discussing my goals for working on my weaknesses. The school talked itself too - lots of PD opportunities, small staff-to-student ratio in my classroom, and, the most important bullet for me: team collaboration. I heard endless discussions on how they are a school that really strives for the team approach. Everyone collaborates, everyone is willing to hear other ideas, and everyone lends a hand. I left the interview feeling good about this potential position. After hearing that I got the job a few days later, I was giddy and bubbling with excitement! The position I applied for and had ultimately gotten, was a special educator position in a Therapeutic Learning Program AKA Behavior Kids. It was a program as part of the public school district, thus, I assumed, "less severe" behavior challenges than the students in my previous school. After reading of their behaviors on paper, I still assumed that "aggression" in this environment, must be different than what I was used to, because, they were still in a "regular" school. Aggression in my previous school was just what it sounds like - aggression toward others meant punching, kicking, throwing large, heavy objects toward them. Aggression toward self meant SIB (self-injurious behavior). If the students were "aggressive" at our schools, it meant that this type of aggression was not able to be managed in a safe, secure, and effective way in the public school environment. I felt it was safe to assume that if these students were still in the public school environment, than the "aggression" was not to the level of those who had to have been "shipped out" to other, more restrictive environments. I was wrong.
Now, I want to make myself very, very clear. Behavior is my forte. I feel confident in my abilities to manage behavior, implement behavior support plans, and create engaging lessons and interactive environments as a means for positive supports. I am comfortable dealing with students who aggress toward me, spit at me, swear at me, calling me names, destroy my room, rip their work, etc. I know what to do. I have my degree in it for crying out loud! But this year, so far, as really made me doubt my abilities. I left my old position for reasons with the politics and administration, not because of the kids or environment. I left my old position to a new position in the same field, with the same issues, to help the same kids.
The first day of school was a disaster. You can read about that here. The first week, though looking back on it, wasn't a complete success, I did survive. Since then, my weeks have been up and down. Sadly, if I were average the weeks, based on my own feelings, I would say that the majority have been disappointing, stressful, and all-around, ungood. Sure, there are days that feel okay. But I have yet to leave the building at 3 pm (yeah right...try like 5), feeling successful. I have yet to feel like I've made a difference. I have yet to feel like I have any support at all. I have yet to feel that my behavioral education and experience has paid off. I feel like a first year teacher, new to the classroom, new to students, with ZERO classroom management skills.
What I've come to realize is that I assumed wrong. The behaviors are exactly the same. The kids are no different. They throw chairs at me, call me terrible names, and punch their classmates. They come from broken homes, wonderful successful homes, or no homes at all. They have trauma histories, behavioral disorders, and/or communication challenges. I get them. I get what they need. I know how to help. Sadly, the district doesn't offer the support we as educators of these learners need to implement the ideal environment. The only difference between this school and my old school is the environment. We had set protocols for specific behaviors, and I had the support of my colleagues and administrators to implement behavior supports. Not here. I am on my own.
"Oh, you have a student who is trashing your room once a week? Do what you think would work with that student and let us know. Oh, no you can't do that. No, you can't do that either." Great...
In addition to the challenges I am having reaching out to my colleagues for support, my para has been absent 6 times since September. 6 TIMES! So, is it any wonder that I'm not able to remain on a consistent academic schedule with consistency in our behavioral support? Well - it doesn't even matter. Because we are 6 weeks in, and I feel like the damage is done. You know what they say about setting up your classroom from the start with your behavioral and academic expectations? And how much more effective your classroom will run for the rest of the year if you do this from the get go? Well, I'm one of those teachers who has always said that, and now I'm one of those teachers who is screwed because I didn't do that.
It also doesn't help that my toughest kid is universally disliked by my entire class, INCLUDING my para. He has significant learning and behavioral challenges, and is the one that has destroyed my room every week since school has started. Arguably, he needs the most support - when his needs are met, other students can succeed as well. Well, with my para being out, I don't have the man-power, or even just to BODIES to reinforce his positive behavior, thus, less attention = more outbursts. And even when my para is here, it find it nearly impossible for her to praise him for anything! "Well, he should know how to do that" or "Oh, he knows exactly what he should be doing. You shouldn't have to praise him for sitting in his chair." There is nothing more infuriating as an educator than another educator who doesn't get it....and frankly, is mostly likely doing significant damage to the students' confidence. AND, I'm having a very hard time talking about my concerns with my supervisor and principal because she is considered the most capable, and the "best" para in the school. So what is it that I do not see?
I have left nearly every single day this year holding back tears. Then I come home, work on academics and behavioral supports until bedtime, just to wake up the next day, not being able to get anything done. I feel like I haven't taught anything in weeks. WEEKS. I feel like I have NO control over my classroom, and it pains me to say that. It pains me to "walky" to my fellow colleagues for CPI support in my classroom SEVERAL times a day. It makes me feel like I don't know what I'm doing. What's worse, is that I was talked up by the administrators as this "behavior guru." How embarrassing is it to continuously be the one who repeatedly asks for help with the SAME behaviors, with no progression since the beginning of the school year.
We've had one meeting in our discipline this year. And it was to talk about our SMART Goals. Talk about a lack of support.
I'm sorry for the depressing, defeating post today. I've needed to get these feelings off my chest for weeks. Friday was the final straw - something needs to change. I can't go on living like this, waking up every day, dreading my day at work. Hopefully, this post will kick start something in my life to better my situation. I'll keep you posted.
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