Last Resort Special Education Room with Sam P., The ED Queen (Ep 132)
We all know the idea of "that special education classroom" that seems to be the last resort for a child who is struggling to find their place within the school.
That's exactly why I brought Sam to the Inner Circle podcast, so we can tackle the tough topics of "that" classroom. Sam P., is a current self-contained teacher for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities who is transitioning into being a behavioral consultant for a school district. She has been in the classroom for 7 years now and has worked primarily with students with behavioral disorders. She is a TPT author, blogger and runs an instagram platform geared at changing outlooks on student behaviors and providing tips to help manage behaviors in the classroom environment.
Sam fits right in with our gang: she LOVES writing IEPs! To hear her put it, "There's just something about putting together the supports and programming for kids that really comes to light when we all sit at a table and we all talk about what's best for that student, and really put into that one, workable document." Perfection! There's such hope and possibility alive at an IEP table where everyone is really contributing and working together to better the educational experience of a child. But... not everyone on Sam's teams share that hope ... AT FIRST.
Fresh Starts, Not Dead Ends!
It's sad but true: there's a perception that self-contained settings, like Sam's classroom, are a "last resort", but that's so far from the truth! There are so many students, whose needs are really diverse, their behaviors can be very extreme, and we have to stop and think about, "What are we really providing for this student? What will work best for them?" Sometimes, the self-contained classroom or alternative placements really are the best fit for a child's individual needs, but for many parents, that's not an easy pill to swallow. Sam describes her program and classroom as a place for fresh starts, not dead ends. For many of our students, it can provide them the support they need to be successful.
We also need to consider that these placements aren't permanent. The goal for any placement to is make sure that the student is in the least restrictive environment (LRE), so once achieved our goals inside the self-contained classroom (built relationships with the student, created unique and successful supports for the student), we can start to develop a plan for supporting the student outside of this placement. We're building skills in a smaller, more person-focused environment preparing them to transition into the general education environment.
Debunking Classroom Relationships
Relationships are important in the classroom, however they are not a form of classroom management. Data tells us that the more positive peope we put in a child's life, the more likely they are to develop resilience and better process trauma. Great! But that's not a method for classroom management. Teachers, you can have a management strategy in your classroom, you can hold high expectations for your students, and you can have positive relationships with your students. All three of these things are possible and encouraged. They shouldn't, however, replace each other.
Moms, teachers... I hear you. You're sitting in your car listening to this, thinking, "I've done this - I've been built a great relationship with my student(s), but it's still not working." You're right, because the relationship is just one piece of the puzzle. We have to address the root of the issues PARTNERED with a positive relationship because that build trust.
Your Kids Deserve the Best of You
Yes, we want the best for our students, yes, we can build relationships, but we also need to consider what relationship am I having with myself to keep going? Healthy boundaries are key to reduce teacher burnout and improve student success. Bubble baths don't fix IEPs, so what's the self-care routine for teachers? Sam points to our self-criticism as the main cause of that stress and burnout. Displace the job from your self-worth as a teacher. Stop reading the blogs (but not this one ) that say you should do XYZ if its effecting your mental health. There's no clear path to disconnect from the job, each person will have a different way to separate themselves from their profession. You are YOU. Teacher you is something totally different. Mom you is something totally different. It's so important to set and HOLD boundaries between those lives, to give yourself time and space to disconnect and decompress from each.
Letting Go is Not Failure
Sometimes, a particular placement or environment turns out to be the wrong placement. That's okay. Too often we struggle with the fact that letting go of a student is a failure on our end. We have to be ok that sometimes students moving on is the best thing we can do for them.
There's a stigma of what education looks like: completing work inside a traditional classroom. We need to advocate that education looks different for everyone: my classroom and its lessons looks way different from what Sam's classroom and lessons look like, but both can be successful and both can be meeting or exceeding the needs of a particular student.
Here's a glance at the episode...
[1:20] "There's just something about putting together the supports and programming for kids that really comes to light when we all sit at a table and we all talk about what's best for that student, and really put into that one, workable document."
[7:09] "Yes, we can build relationships; yes, we want the best for our students, but we also need to consider what relationship am I having with myself to keep going in this environment or to keep being the best for my students?"
[14:40] "Too often we struggle with the fact that letting go of a student is a failure on our end. We have to be ok that sometimes students moving on is the best thing we can do for them."
Special Education Teachers, Admin, Paras... if you're thinking about leaving the classroom, come find me on social media and send me a DM. I've got something to help you love your job again.
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