No Experience, No Training, Good Luck
Adventures working in special Ed.
Adventures of Miss Tee and The Little Yellow Buses
Ahem, I’m going to get on my soapbox. I would like to give a huge amount of love to all the paraeducators, instructional aides (be it sped or general) and behavior interventionists. Nobody ever gives us the credit we deserve. It may sound arrogant to say but we run those classrooms. Those special ed classes can not survive without us. We know these kids better than the teachers do because we’re with them all the time. We know their tics, habits, stims, what will set them off, what brings them comfort, what makes them sick and what makes them well.
We also know the toll it can take. The mental and physical exhaustion we feel sometimes. We’re underpaid and under appreciated. I have been spat on, kicked, grabbed, pushed, shoved, been verbally abused and a lot more. I have had to restrain kids, we’ve had to clear out classrooms because one student posed a danger to themselves and everyone else around them. Many times administration doesn’t have our back or complains we miss too many days. But I will be right there to protect them should someone wish to do them harm. I have worked with hundreds of kids with special needs in my 15 years plus of working in this field.
Now that I’m off my soapbox, I would like to share this about how I began to work in special education. I have worked in education since I was 21 years old. I was a college aide for a couple of years at a middle school in the AVID program but when my college credits ran out, I needed to find another job quickly. It’s about 2004. It was suggested to me that I do special ed. I, like many when they don’t know what they don’t know and are a little ignorant, immediately said “I’m not changing diapers!” (That defiance didn’t last long btw). We’ve all seen special needs students when we were in grade school and/or high school. They were always hidden away or in their own part of campus. I was in grade school in the 80s and middle and high school in the 90s and I can safely say I only saw special Ed kids in high school. You just didn’t think about it if it didn’t concern you.
I was already in with the district I was working for, so I decided to stay. A test that an 8th grader could pass had to be taken and a short interview was all it took to get the job. You also have to sign a contract and in the contract it states that you will have to change diapers, if needed. All of my bluster about not doing so went away when a paycheck was needed. Oh boy.
Let me just say right here and now, when you take on the job of being an instructional aide in special education, you get no training. None. Nobody warns you of what’s to come. There’s no preparation like there should be. You’re kind of just thrown into the lion’s den and expected to find your way out.
As the dude said on the phone with Liam Neeson in Taken: “Good Luck”!
Now for those who may not know, there are multiple forms of special education. I have worked with them all. I have worked with all grade levels but I prefer high school kids and above (those in the transition program). Kids with autism (non verbal/non aggressive to extremely aggressive), Downs syndrome, students who are physically disabled, in wheelchairs or other forms of PD. Kids who are developmentally disabled and learning disabled. There are kids who look “normal” but are in need of a little help. Kids who have been labeled as FTT (Failure to Thrive). Failure to Thrive means the child has slow physical development due to a lack of nutrition. The child may end up with behavior and other developmental issues. There’s also children with emotional disturbances and some of those kids were real…interesting. There’s a former student of ours who is now serving life without parole because of a double homicide. Emotionally disturbed he was. Not ideal. It’s also possible that a student has multiple special needs diagnoses.
I worked as a sub aide my first year and a half in special education. So if and when the regular aides were out, I was called in. My very first time working in a special needs classroom, I was called in to be a 1:1 aide to an elementary student. 1:1 meaning I would be responsible for him and his needs throughout the day. Did I mention that no training is given for situations like this? I come into the room and it was like I was invisible. The day has already started and the teachers, aides and other kids were already doing their thing. Finally, somebody came up to me and told me I was going to be looking over David (that isn’t his real name, at least I don’t think it is, but honestly it was so long ago, I can’t remember).
David was a student who was deaf, nonverbal, vision impaired (he could see a little bit but not that great) and had autism. Autism is hard to describe. But, what’s that one quote? I can’t define it but I know it when I see it. She pointed him out to me and I walked over to him. I was just about to wave hi to him when I remembered the brotha couldn’t see. Miss Tee, we’re not starting off in a spectacular fashion. I instead let him reach for me and he must have felt safe because he smiled. I think he could also sense my nervousness. The thing about these kids, when they lose one sense, they gain another.
I didn’t know anything about this kid but I knew I had to protect and watch over him for the day. He got around pretty well on his own for the most part. Nutrition came and the teacher rolls up on me and tells me David needs to have his EpiPen with him. His what? That is a device that injects epinephrine into the system to prevent serious allergic reactions. If I remember correctly, David was allergic to peanuts . Now I’m wondering can David go to the bathroom on his own? Cause my nerves are bad that I’m gonna have to change a 9 year old’s diaper. I’m just being honest here. I would have done it had it been required.
In David’s case, he was able to use the facilities on his own but I had to be nearby in case he needed any assistance. Things were going smoothly I thought. Did I mention that they don’t prepare you for scenarios? Well one thing the teacher and other aides failed to mention to me is that David liked to elope. That means David liked to wander. David also liked to run. I found this out when the kids had their playtime and David decided it was time to go. Go where? Anywhere but where he was supposed to be.
So now I’m chasing him around the playground. There’s no use in calling his name because he can’t hear me. I mentioned he can’t see that well but he can see well enough to have me getting my cardio for the day. I’m out of breath, huffing and puffing and he’s still going. Finally the teacher helps me get him where she then tells me “David elopes” Oh really? Now David and I are both huffing and puffing. What time is it? Lord, I don’t know if I can do this. The teacher hands me a handball and says that David likes to hit it against the wall. I’m like “Cool!” This I can do. David and I hit the handball against the wall for about ten minutes and we both seemed to relax after we were done. The rest of the day went by without incident. There’s no grand goodbye when you leave for the day. It’s just “Thank you for coming” and off you go.
And off I went to another school, to another student and another adventure. Til next time….