Friday, December 31, 2010

The Truth About Working In Special Education

When I no longer had the temporary position that I held on an insurance company’s technical support team, I found myself floundering. Here I was with a household size of five with no job. The job that I thought was perfect and dreamed would turn into a permanent position was over. There was no going back. Sure, I had unemployment benefits coming in, but not at the $13.00 an hour I had become accustomed with receiving. So, it was time to find my next dream job.
With the way that the economy is going, I’m sure most of you can relate to the cut-throat world of job applications and interviews. You scour the internet and the local newspaper for that perfect job. What happens though when you don’t know what your dream job is or when you don’t find it? You end up taking the first opportunity that either sounds like fun, or just plain will pay the bills.
When I accepted a position that had been extended to me from my current employer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It took me all of a half of a day to realize that I may have gotten myself in over my head. The position I accepted was that as a teacher’s assistant, or paraprofessional. You may wonder just what is wrong with this type of position. The answer is simple: Absolutely nothing. What you may fail to realize at this point is that the school in question is a private special needs school. The classrooms consist of emotional support and autistic support students.
My brother-in-law’s daughter has Asperger’s, a type of autism. Having been around her for a large portion of her life, and with my associate’s degree in education, I thought myself to be well suited and equipped to handle this type of environment. One problem may be that for most of my working career, I either A) worked in a hardware store or B) worked at a desk all day. I never worked with kids, let alone a classroom of multiple children who all had some sort of special need.
To say I was in for a surprise is the understatement of the year. While I love the kids that I work with, they are a challenge to my sanity at times. There are days where I just don’t know how I am going to survive the next day. They push my buttons, they scream for no reason other than they think the louder they are the more they will get their point across, and then there is the violence. I can’t count the times that I have been spit on, bit, punched, kicked, and had objects chucked at my head. The worst though, is when the violence is directed towards each other. When two students just have it in for each other and you have to be on top of at least one of them all times is difficult. When it comes time for gym or recess, keeping two students apart and not letting them play together is tough. Even though they know that it’s best for them to stay away from each other, it’s like they are magnets drawn to each other.
The most challenging aspect of my job has nothing to do with my job what-so-ever. It’s what happens when the kids go home. Even though they are in an educational setting, a lot of what is done while they are in school is trying to get the negative behaviors to decrease and showing replacement behaviors. But it seems that a lot of the times, when the kids go home it’s the parents or guardians of the kids who are completely undoing everything. It’s though they understand that there is a problem, and they send their child to our school because they want their child’s behavior to improve, yet they lack the capability to follow through with the plans set up. In the end, I sometimes believe that they are their child’s worst enemy.
I took this job for several reasons. The first was that I have a degree in education and I felt that I could finally put it to good use. The other reason, the BIG reason, is that every job I have ever had was in a customer support role because I wanted to HELP people. I thought this was great, now I have the opportunity to help some kids. But now I question who is being helped, if anyone? Is anything really going to ever change within these students? Will they ever actually live a normal life? Or are we all just fooling ourselves because in the end they will only have as much of a chance as all of the participants within their world will allow them?
The unfortunate truth is I think this job has left stripped of my disillusionment. It’s like being a child who has seen too much, and knows too much at too early an age. I ended up taking the first job offered to me, as I’m sure most of you have done when you have found yourself in this type of bind. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing either, as I have responsibilities and people who depend on me to bring home a paycheck. The downside though to my decision is that I am making the same as I was on unemployment- the only difference is now I am a position which my physical safety has been endangered on more than one occasion.
At the end of the day though, I have a job and am thankful for it. But I have learned that it does indeed take a special kind of person to be able to deal with special education children on a daily basis. Am I that type of person? I think the jury is still out on that one. But for now, it’s where I will find myself for 40 hours a week, 5 days a week.

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