Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Burnout

Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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If you haven’t noticed based on my past posts, I love my job. Working with students with special needs has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with my life. I love my kids and have a position at a school that I really feel that I’ve found a place for myself. I have never woken up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to go to work (I’ve felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed, but that’s just because it’s 5:30am and my bed is warm and cozy).

However, as great and rewarding as my job is, it doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering from a bit of burnout.  It was a rough year at my school. Due to some redistricting and the move toward neighborhood schools, we had 100 more 6th graders than expected in September. It took until October to be able to hire more staff to lessen the load, so there were many classes with 36 or more kids at the beginning.

My position wasn’t even created until the beginning of September and I started September 20th. Starting three weeks into the school year is stressful and I felt like I spent the first three months of the year playing catch up. It’s not at all fun to meet all your students’ parents at Curriculum Night when you’ve only been at the school two weeks and the curriculum hadn’t been ordered yet.

Things got better until about March. I always thought high school was bad for spring fever, but middle school is worse. High schoolers just check out and stop doing anything. Middle schoolers just get wacky. My theory is that puberty is hitting them hard and since they are 12, they don’t know how to handle it. We also had a rash of kids possessing or under the influence of marijuana. These are 12 year olds!! It was crazy. Maybe I was a naive kid, but when I was 12, I wouldn’t have known where to get that if I’d wanted it.

Anyway, by the time June came around, we were all burned out. It was a tough year and we were ready to go away for awhile. I have one colleague who was off to Hawaii for a wedding, another going to India for 6 weeks, and I am heading to the NY/NJ/PA/NH area for nearly three weeks. I feel it’s a well deserved vacation after a long, weird school year.

On Monday, I crashed. I slept in, I barely got to the shower, I didn’t work out, and I sat on the couch watching movies all day. It was fantastic. Tuesday, I ran some errands, did a two mile run, and took the dogs for a walk. I finally started feeling normal. I’m heading east in less than a week, and I know that when I get back at the end of July, I’ll be just about ready to return to school.

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Danger in the Classroom

In this technique the punch is blocked and a c...

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I’ve determined today that I am sometimes scared of my job.  If you aren’t aware, I teach middle school special education.  The students I teach have a wide variety of learning, medical, and physical disabilities. Most of them get along day to day with only minor issues.  However, there are many students we serve that have much different problems and some who even can get violent. Which leads me to my opening statement – I am sometimes afraid of what I do.

I just finished the second day of a three day, nine hour total training dealing with de-escalation techniques.  Today we were working on dealing with students who may physically assault us.  We learned how to block kicks, punches, how to get out of choke holds and how to get out of a hair pulling situation.  We had fun doing it – who hasn’t wanted to throw a punch (albeit in slow motion) at a co-worker – but we were also really aware of the reality that we could actually have to use this someday.

Back in my first month of teaching,  I found myself in a bad situation.  Tension had been building all week between two of my freshman. I had talked to our dean about the situation and asked for advice.  He said that there really wasn’t anything that anyone could do besides telling them to stop it (which I had done) until one of them did something.  That happened on Thursday.  Unfortunately, I found myself between the two boys, one going after the other.  I saw the fist just before it struck the side of my head. It hurt, but not terribly, and I was dazed for a moment. The other students, content to sit back and watch their peers fight, got very upset when I was hit and pulled the kids off of each other. I got to the phone, called the dean and he escorted them to the office. One of the students was permanently removed from my classroom and later moved to a different school (for a variety of reasons, not just this incident).

Ever since then, I have been very aware of how dangerous my job can be. I work with students who cannot control their impulses, who don’t always know how to deal with the emotions they are feeling, and sometimes see their only option as violence.  Doing this training has made me uncomfortable about what I may have to do someday. However, I am glad I’m getting this training because the goal is peaceful de-escalation without anyone – me or the student – getting hurt.

I guess I never thought of being a school teacher as being a dangerous job. But it certainly can be.

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The Parents Are Coming

Back to School Night

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So, I’m siting here, waiting for my very first Curriculum Night at my new middle school.  For those who aren’t familiar with Curriculum Nights, they are basically a chance for parents to come to the school, hear from the administration and then from the teachers about what their children are going to be working on this year and what to expect in the coming months. It’s been emphasized several times that this is “not a time for individual conferences.”

I’ve never done a Curriculum Night before.  My first school had two sets of parent teacher conferences, in which the parents would come on a first-come, first-serve basis. Each would get five to ten minutes of a teacher’s time to review 1st marking period grades and any other issues. Then they’d be shuffled off to their student’s next teacher and another set or parents would take their place.  It could get intense when a lot of parents showed up, but that rarely happened. Most parents never showed, especially not the ones that teachers really needed to talk to.

The last school I was at had a “Back To School” night in September that was essentially the same thing as a Curriculum Night.  The funny thing is that both years that I worked there, I wasn’t hired until after the Back to School Night was held. 

So this is really my first time going through one of these.  The funny thing is that I only have a total of eight students in my self-contained classroom, and that’s if they are all there.  Some periods I only have one or two.  My guess is that there will be some time for “individual conferencing.”

I actually like meeting my student’s parents.  I get such an insight into where they are coming from and what their daily life outside of school is like.  Plus, who knows their kids better than their parents?  They can help me help my students in many ways. I learned a long time ago not to be nervous when meeting with parents – you are all there for the same reason: to help the student succeed.  Look at them as teammates, not antagonists.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but if I start with that attitude, it’s a lot easier to achieve that result.

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Back to the Workforce

Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, Washington. T...

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For awhile now, I’ve been praying I’d be able to write the following:

I’VE GOT A NEW JOB!!!

I am now employed by Seattle Public Schools. I work as Special Education Generalist (read: I teach all subjects) in a north Seattle middle school.  Soon, I’ll have a paycheck and benefits! I’ll be able to go to the doctor! I can get new glasses!

Seriously, though, it all happened pretty fast.  I applied a couple of weeks ago.  The position was opened to applications for exactly one week, and it closed on Friday after school had started.  I received a call from the school on the following Tuesday and was scheduled for an interview on Wednesday afternoon.  I was subbing for a former colleague all that week, so I left school, ran home and changed into my interview suit, pet the dogs, and headed down to Seattle.

The interview went really well.  The principal was there, as was two of the three asst. principals and one of the special education team.  We went through the questions, all of which I feel I answered reasonably well.  After a particular question about behavior programs, the principal commented on my behavior experience.  I asked my questions – mostly about number of students served and case load size.  I left, feeling good about how the interview went.

I got home and ate my dinner. Afterward, I noticed I had missed a call on my phone.  It was the principal, requesting me to call her back to discuss something.  I did, and during our conversation, she unofficially offered me the job.  “Unofficially” because any offer has to go through Human Resources and the District Office.  She told me I’d hear officially in the next two days.

I heard the following afternoon and accepted the position immediately. I was scheduled to come into HR on Monday morning to sign my contract and turn in my other paperwork. From there, I went to my new school! The substitute that had been there since the first day of school was scheduled through the end of the week, so the transition would go smoothly.  I spent the day meeting new people, desperately trying to remember everyone’s names and not get lost in the confusing building.

So, my position is a new one, as is the program that I am working in.  Previously, my school had a large number of inclusion students, meaning that there was usually a co-teaching situation – one content teacher and one special educator to help with compliance and modifications.  However, they decided to expand their program to include those who need a more intense situation.  Thus, the self-contained program was born. The students started out all day in my room, but over the last three weeks, have slowly been integrated into general classrooms as appropriate.  I teach one period each of Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, Study Skills, Literacy Support, and Study Hall. The number of students I have in any one period varies from one to eight.  I’m getting a new student next week who will have more intense needs than most of the rest of my students, so my position continues to grow and change.

I admit, I’m nervous about my job. It’s not that I don’t think I can do it – it’s just that there’s a lot going on, I’m three weeks behind, and I’m trying to catch up as quickly as possible. I already have an IEP meeting week after next and I don’t even have access to the IEP system.  So far, I like my job very much, but ask me in about two months for a more accurate assessment.

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