Sunday, July 8, 2012

Special Education & Student Teaching

Some of you may be wondering why I decided to student teach a second time.  So, I would like to share that story with you…

WARNING:  This may turn into a soap box.  J

My undergraduate degree was from Southeastern Bible College, so I graduated with a double major in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies.  After graduating, I taught first grade for six years at a Christian school, later leaving to stay home with my kids.  While teaching, I went back to school to earn my Master’s Degree (also in Elementary Education).

It was during those years of teaching in a Christian school and working on my Master’s degree that I began to have a great burden for students with special needs.  Because Christian schools do not receive government funding, they are not required to serve these students.  However, those with learning disabilities, attention disorders, and other “less severe” problems still make it into the classrooms.  Since I taught first grade, I could generally “get them through” to second grade.  I would help them during the school day or sometimes provide one-on-one help after school.  However, by the time these kids got to third grade or later, many of them just couldn’t keep up any more without extra services, and many would leave our school.  Some would even leave midway through first grade.  It broke my heart to see them go.  I loved them dearly.  The “unwritten rule” that I observed was:  “As long as you can keep up, feel free to stay, but don’t expect us to give you any special treatment.”  Now, you would never hear anyone say it like that, but that’s the way it was for the most part.  Yes, there was one special program that families could use – but doing so doubled their tuition, and it was only intended for students with learning disabilities.

This bothered me greatly.  For a while now, the public school system has realized their obligation to reach these students.  How can those who call themselves Christians refuse to help them?

Many of those who work in Christian education have been trained to object at this point.  They would say that the cost is too great.  I would argue that the cost is too great if we don’t help them.  And beyond this, if money is the ONLY reason, that is not a good enough reason.  If you look at Jesus’ life, who did He spend the majority of His time with?  It generally was not with those who “had it all together.”  The people He spent His life serving were the sick, the hopeless, those rejected or looked down upon by society – like the tax collectors and fishermen.  In addition, what are we teaching the kids in our Christian schools if they never come in contact with those who are different than they are?

For those schools that have realized the great need and begun to reach out to these students, the cost is often not as great as they feared.  I have seen various reports where schools discovered that while taking student with special needs into their schools, the other siblings in the family followed – thus filling the classrooms and offsetting the extra “cost.” 

Skip ahead a few months/years…  Criss and I take in (and eventually adopt) a foster child with delays and medical issues.  We work through years of Early Intervention, physical therapy, speech, occupational therapy, etc.  It comes time for her to attend school, and I have a great choice to make.  I graduated from a Christian school (and went back to teach at that same school for six years).  I can send her to this school or one like it – where she will be surrounded by the Christian influences I believe in - but not receive any help with her individual needs.  Or, I can send her to the public school system who is required to meet her needs but looses much of the Christian influence.  No parent should have to make this choice.  And it’s not about arguing over what’s best – public school, private school, or homeschooling.  It’s about allowing parents to have the choice about what best meets their families needs.  Families of children with special needs often have no choice.

I also I have a son with chronic digestive/allergic problems.  He is currently on an NG tube.  If we move to a permanent feeding tube, would I be able to find a Christian school to meet his needs?  Highly doubtful.  You see, it’s not just about kids with “severe” disabilities.  It’s the kids who may just need speech, PT, or OT services.  It’s about the kids with feeding tubes, diabetes, etc. that just need a nurse on the campus.  It’s about the kids who just need some help in a small group setting 30 minutes to an hour (or less) each day.

So, this is the reason that I decided to add the Endorsement in Special Education to my current teaching certificate.  In order to do that, I had to student teach again since none of my experience was in an “official” special education setting.

My ultimate vision would be to open my own Christian school where NO ONE was turned away for any reason.  I don’t know how or when this will come about – and I may never see it fully come to pass in my lifetime.  But for now, I can share my passion on this subject with you and others I come in contact with.

I could go on forever about this subject, but I will stop here for now. 

I had been home long enough that it was time for my teaching certificate to expire.  Since I had not been teaching and had no CEU’s, I needed to take 2 classes to renew.  I only needed 4 classes to add the Special Education Endorsement, so it was a good time to do it.

I appreciate anyone who’s stayed with this post ‘til the end.  We’ll move on to lighter topics in the coming days.  J

"As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me."
Matthew 25:40


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