Thursday, October 11, 2012

Say: Good Morning Students!

For 8 years I protected my students from teacher manuals. Every lesson I taught was based on what I observed the students doing, what I wanted them to be able to do, and the skills I knew they needed to get from where they were to where we were going. They were not half hearted lessons- everything was plotted out and analyzed from the intentional language I used with the children to the specific materials. In so many ways lesson planning (especially if it is co-planning) is my favorite part of teaching- creating the lesson plans, analyzing the skills, putting it all together so that children are able to learn.

I love looking at my data, analyzing where my kids are and plotting my next steps. It's creating a road map for student success.

Unfortunately, in special ed, I'm learning that the system of letting the teacher plan out the lessons is not how we roll.

I began to learn this last year but it was just in reading. I didn't like it, but I could see the value in bits and pieces. I could see how it was taking away some of my thoughtfulness as a teacher and in turn making my instruction less student focused.

This year it's a whole new ballgame- every subject has a program and is scripted. Even science. I find it physically painful to be forced to use a teacher manual. As though I'm not capable enough of determine what to teach when- or- for our scripted lessons- what to SAY when.

What did you hire me to do?

Apparently to read and turn pages.

Since I don't actually get a planning time or a chance to sit down with my team I can see where the scripted lessons have some value. Apparently special education teachers aren't expected to have time to plan, so instead we can just turn the pages of the manual. We're in the "don't think, just do" category of teachers. If we've been hired to be warm bodies in the classroom then nobody needs to worry about what we teach if they just give us a scripted lesson.

I began our scripted science curriculum on Tuesday. I dove into the lesson head first. It is my first year teaching students with intellectual disabilities. Who knows, maybe the lesson would actually rock. People spent a lot of time and effort creating it- it should be awesome, right?

I tried. I really did.  I read the script. I turned the pages. I spoke when it told me to speak and I waited for student responses when it said to listen for student responses.

When I looked up from the manual I was faced with the yawns and glazed-over eyes of my poor students desperately trying to pay attention. It was the first time I can honestly say I saw them bored. Even my aid was yawning.

The next day I taught the concepts but threw in my own spin and actual lesson. It went better- less yawning, more participating.

Today, after realizing the experiment they'd so nicely scripted out for us did not actually work, I created my own lesson. Much, much better.

I understand that special ed can be a scary place because of the legal ramifications  I understand that legally school districts get scared of what their teachers are doing and it is easier to give scripted "research based" programs instead of asking teachers to use their professional judgement. When we do that, if kids don't learn what they need to learn we can all shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, we gave them a research based program". It takes away some of the scary unknown of letting a teacher decide how best to approach a subject of a student. It makes everything nice and easy- literally fitting into a box that can be taken from room to room.

As teachers we are better than scripted teaching program and our kids deserve more than programs that encourage us to not think about what we're doing. The general education kids get teachers who are thoughtful about their teaching. While still teaching standards those teachers are trusted to analyze and plan their own instruction. They are able to get together as a team and decide how best to approach teaching a topic. They are given the task of bringing everyone to a certain level by using their professional wisdom. Why can't the special education students be given the same courtesy?

Why can't children with special needs to given teachers who also plan, collaborate, analyze, and are deliberately thoughtful about instruction?


Jill said...

I feel the same way about my reading program, and I am a gen ed teacher. My program gives me NO room for adaptation or knowing my students, and when I strayed from the program last school year, I was in trouble.

It's frustrating when your principal tells you what a "great teacher" you are until you start trying to actually teach the kids you have in your class.

molly said...

So, so true. It has gotten better, but my first year teaching I remember saying to my mom, "I just want to have time to at least LOOK at the math lesson before I teach it." I was coordinating SO many different groups and doing so much paperwork and staying so late at school and it was so frustrating to not be able to focus on teaching. Even now that I have managed to carve out planning time, I feel like it's a luxury to think about how and what I'm going to teach instead of doing paperwork. Imagine how well the kids would do if we spent our money on more teachers so that everyone could have planning time, instead of on expensive, scripted curriculum.
Even the research based, scripted curriculum is not "criticism proof." Last year a parent was mad that I was following a structured curriculum and using pre-made homework sheets. He wanted to know how that was "individualized." And although I was adjusting to what his child needed so in this case he was not correct, I could see parents being able to make this argument.
And...this is getting long, but in teaching learning support for kids with mostly mild disabilities, I can't just use a completely separate curriculum than the regular ed teachers. If I'm following a different scope and sequence that does not align with the general ed curriculum then once you're in the learning support, you're stuck there and that is NOT the right idea.
Phew. I guess I had some things to say about this.

organized chaos said...

Jill- what program are you being forced to use? That just pains me so much to hear you are using a program in the gen ed setting. Education has come too far for that!

organized chaos said...

Molly- I hear you, I hear you. I really appreciate your perspective from a parent- it is true- if I was a parent and I was seeing this set-in-stone curriculum I would be very confused as to why we spent time writing IEPs for a student only to somehow force a program on him/her. Parents should question how authentic and individual the IEP goals are if they are only supporting a specific curriculum...
And you are very right about the programs separating our kids even further from the gen ed kids- which is absolutely unacceptable.

Jill said...

We use Superkids. It's a K-2 program made by the woman who created American Girl dolls. It is really painful for me to teach!! :(

I'm glad you write about this topic often. It makes me feel better about my disdain for these programs!