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Special Education Really is Special

By December 2, 2015January 6th, 2016Blog

1 in every 7 children receives special education in school. 

Special Education Day is December 2nd and began in 2005.

It celebrates the passage of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), enacted in 1975, mandating that children and youth, ages 3–21, with disabilities be provided a free and appropriate public school education. This day not only recognizes that event, but fosters interest in ongoing reform and progress in the education of individuals with disabilities.  It may sound technical in its description, but IDEA was groundbreaking and is a life-changer for so many children.

I am a Special Educator; I began working in the field in 1973 – yes, 42 years ago, and a couple years before the passage of this act.  Until very recently I didn’t know there was a Special Education Day!

I have been privileged to have a variety of experiences, over the last 40+ teaching years, and they have shaped my journey as a teacher and have impacted the way I approach teaching. A good teacher realizes they don’t know it all and loves to continue learning.  There is something new for me to learn every day I spend in the classroom and in my interactions with families.  I have taught preschoolers, those with multiple severe impairments, elementary age kids. And high school age kids.  And I have met the most amazing parents.

Sometimes I am finding 25 different ways to teach the basic colors; until I find the right method, and sometimes I am brushing up on Beowulf or Analytic Geometry to help a senior pass his last classes.  I have also worked with many dedicated teachers and para-professionals over the years; people who give their all every day to help kids learn. Every day that I spend with children with disabilities and their families is a learning experience for me.

My Learning Gems

Every parent wants what is best for their child, although there may be differing thoughts about what is right. I need to be open and listen. Often I might share something that is hard to hear, but at the end the parent says “What can I do to help make that happen?” 

Every child wants to do well and it is my job to figure out the right supports to help them do well.  I recently taught a little preschooler who was living in a therapeutic foster home.  He kept trying to run away from our preschool (to be home with his family).  The educational and clinical team here at the Spurwink preschool spent many hours developing plans, spending time with him, keeping him safe and bolstering his self-worth. When he left our preschool, he was once again able to be part of a classroom, go to the beach and have fun with his friends from school, and share things he accomplished with pride.  

It is a lot of hard work every day! Sometimes it is frustrating, or it hurts body or heart – but at the end of the day it is worth it. It hurts the heart when a parent shares their deepest fears about having another child because their first child you teach had a stroke prenatally.  (But seeing a beautiful little girl then born to these same parents was heartwarming).  The body hurts, like the recent baseball size bruise on my hip from a chair that was pushed over on me.

If I am honest and expect honesty in return I earn respect from students and families and together we can make progress. My high school students were asked to evaluate me.  Here’s what I heard:  “You better not lie to her; she really doesn’t like that“; “She will help you when you ask”; “She listens to me”.  I love it.   To see one of those students successfully graduate from Marine boot camp was just terrific.

The passage of IDEA marked a new era in education.  This step forward was accompanied by misgivings about whether the federal government would be able to fund this mandate.  Despite many challenges to fiscally sustain and manage government support over the years, the law remains.  Today we have made progress in providing that education but we must be vigilant as we move forward; there is always room for change and improvement. 

We all have much to learn.

Happy Special Education Day to those who teach and those who learn!

by Lynn Cooke

Program Coordinator

Spurwink Therapeutic Preschool