Many of the writers in the Wednesday memoir-writing class I’ve been leading over the years are retired public school teachers. Mary Finnegan is one of them. Mary is devoted to her brother–in-law who has disabilities, and since retiring she has been volunteering regularly at his group home. Here she is with a guest post.
Unrealistic expectations masked as idealism
by Mary Finnegan
I am a retired music teacher, and when I was teaching in the public schools, students with special needs were often mainstreamed into my music classes with no difficulties. Sometimes I had as many as three dozen students in classrooms where there weren’t enough seats for everyone, but with the help of paraprofessionals, I managed.
From time to time, however, I was required to teach self-contained special education classes alone. A self-contained classroom is a full day class at a regular school that’s just for children with disabilities. It’s usually composed of a small number of children who cannot be educated appropriately in an average classroom, and things didn’t always go well when I had to teach a class like that by myself. In one of the self-contained classes I taught, a special needs student suffered a seizure in my room. Another time I had to block the doorway with my cart to prevent a child with a behavior disorder from bolting from the room and leaving the building, which that child had done in another circumstance. These instances occurred in small class sizes.
I cannot even imagine handling larger class sizes of students with varying disabilities grouped together without the help of a paraprofessional, so I was startled to hear that the Illinois State Board of Education plans to allow local school districts to lift class size restrictions on self-contained special education classes at all levels. And that’s not all:, the number of special needs students placed in general education classrooms would no longer be limited, either, and the requirement to hire paraprofessionals would not apply in all circumstances.
Before she died, my mother-in-law often expressed gratitude for the special teachers who enabled her son to become self-sufficient to the point of managing a job in a sheltered workshop as an adult. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the teachers who worked with him along with his classmates who had even more severe problems. To ask one person, no matter how well trained, to meet the specific needs of students with varying degrees of mental or physical disabilities without help is unrealistic expectations masked as idealism.
This matter is open for public discussion, and you can link to this email generator to let the State Board know your feelings. You DO NOT have to be a teacher or a paraprofessional to give your opinion. In some of the news articles I’ve recently read, I learned that public opinion will be considered through April 22, 2013. Thanks in advance for expressing your opinion on this matter, and thanks to Beth for allowing me to express mine here on her blog.