I teach special education because I feel a calling to work with one of the most vulnerable populations. As educators, we enjoy working with our students and seeing them grow, but the challenges outside of the classroom can drain you emotionally. I feel an urgent pull to not only support my students academically but fight for what they need and deserve — in and out of the classroom. It really is a calling to be a teacher but it drains you emotionally when you deal with some of the challenges out in the field.
Caseloads are critical to both working conditions and delivery of services. At the elementary school level, the bigger the class, the bigger your caseload. Some elementary school special ed classes have 21 students in them, even though the school board approved a maximum of 14. As special ed teachers, not only do we have to plan and deliver instruction, but we also manage and write IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). Ultimately, the increased IEPs of the special ed students fall on the special ed teachers. This means assessing students even as we deliver instruction — we have to just figure it out.
The high caseload affects me a lot, personally. I’ve had some health issues this past semester. I’ve experienced constant colds, headaches, and fatigue due to the stress of overworking to stay afloat and in compliance with IEPs. Ultimately, the struggles that teachers go through impact the students. We cannot zero in on and support our students because we are pulled into so many things — we are juggling so much. If we were to honor the lower caseloads, teachers would have to more time to spend with students in supporting their unique needs. This is particularly necessary in supporting students in their behavioral needs, which require consistency and individualized attention.
Another challenge we face as educators is over-testing of our students. In the 2019 strike, teachers and parents won an agreement from the school district to reduce unnecessary assessments, but the district is dragging its feet in complying. Every year, students have to take many computerized state assessments. There are strict rules around assessing kids. Students with disabilities and English Language Learners get tested the most. That means less time learning and more time assessing.
When I taught in elementary school, my students with autism were constantly tired because of over-testing. It would be a struggle to get a student to sit in front of the computer to take the assessments. Some would even run out of the classroom. I would have to call support staff to get them to come in and take the assessments, and to help them calm down. There were always two or three students who were tired of it. They would slam the computer closed, scream, and say, “I am done with that,” and flee the classroom.
Students are over-assessed. To them, the tests feel never-ending. How many times do we have to assess a child?
Special Education Teacher
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