Special Ed Teachers Have Special Needs Too!

How does a teacher manage a student with special needs?
How does a teacher stabilize student with emotional and behavioral needs?
How does a teacher nurture a centered-focus for a student with attention difficulties?
How does a teacher manage a classroom of student with behavior, reading, physical, attention and life challenges?

I bet you will say all that is covered in the Teacher Training curriculum for Special Education. After all, teacher training seeks to produce a whole person, who can manage a classroom environment with all its multifaceted complicatedness. There are smart and dull students, calm and restless, slow and fast, participatory and inactive, distracted and attentive, young and not so young. Not to forget that twenty-first century classrooms are multinational, multiabilties, multi-sexual, multi-origin and multi-races, multi-everything. Everything goes, everything is expected, and everything is planned for.

Moreover, today more than ever before, the topic of Special Needs Education for Students with Disabilities has been mainstreamed into the classroom environment. Gone are the days when children who acted and looked “different” were hospitalized or restrained in mental asylums, deemed dangerous on a ‘regular’ school campus. While it is still true that in many parts of the world, schooling opportunities for students with special needs, separately or as part of the ‘regular’ school environment barely exist.

Here in the United States, special academies are set up to cater for students with special needs, staffed with  teachers trained in Special Ed. Even the seemingly most challenging behavioral students now have a place in the main school education system. If not at designated academy, special classrooms exist within the regular school complex for the education of students with autistic needs, life skills, emotional and behavioral needs, post-hospitalization, as well as early intervention. The focus is not always on academic excellence, in programs such as post-hospitalization, but could range for therapy to behavioral transformation and emotional stabilization. As a parent, I applaud and cherish the availability of such opportunities for students who would otherwise be excluded from the pipeline of ‘a ‘regular’ schooling system. High accolades for those selfless souls called Special Ed teachers and their associates, who have agreed to partake on the insurmountable task of ‘baby-sitting’ big kids.

Though, one wonders who takes cares of the special needs of Teachers for Special Needs students? Who provides personal support to Special Education Teachers? Does the curriculum include a “how-to” training on protecting oneself as a teacher for special needs students, if attacked [repeatedly] by own special needs students? My experience in a couple of elementary, intermediate and high school special needs classrooms exposes the complexities, challenges and dangerous everyday work environment a teacher for special needs students.

I am not trained in “Special Education”, and only recently began experiencing “teaching in an American K-12 environment”. My experience is in teaching at US colleges and universities. As I have said before, never had I ever imagined willingly stepping into a classroom environment for young learners. All this changed since I had my own “young learner”, and the rest is history. I decided to experience the classroom environment to gain practical experience, exposure and understanding of what goes on in the children’s classroom, how they learn, how they interact with the learning tools, with their teachers and peers and respond to teaching and learning aides exposed to them. Particularly because I did not attend elementary education in the United States, it made sense to me to learn how my son is learning in order to better assist him with his school projects and home assignments. Beside, I am from a family or teachers, and a devoted teacher, myself!

My experience thus far, has got me scared, and in some incidences traumatized for the teachers in K-12 classrooms, especially those dealing with special needs students. I have wondered several times, at what point do students decide it is ok to beat up, scratch, curse, swear, talk back violently at their teachers! Engaging in behaviors not identified with the everyday home environment, or so I think? How can children throw tantrums that are so violent and compromise the safety of their fellow classmates, most especially for the teachers? How do these students becomes so selfish not to imagine that their erratic, aggressive and unsocial attitudes, characters and behaviors are not acceptable in public and toward any adult?

Of course, I have also taught myself OR learned, not to take what I see or experience from such students personal. I have been disrespected by 8-15 year-old students, while working one-on-one with them on their classroom assignment and during private coaching homework. Some have rudely told me off [and I obeyed] to get out of their face. “Why are you standing here looking over me? Go find someone else to help,” a 15 year old academy student ordered me. I have been scratched, beat and cursed by young learners for the crime of insisting on getting them to sit down, focus on their classwork, pick up after themselves or undertake their assignments.

While we as parents can [sometimes] raise our voices toward our children and spank them, this experience has vividly taught me, that is not a luxury available to a Special Ed/Needs Teacher. S/he has to suck up to being beat, kicked, screamed at and violated by young learners, utilizing only officially sanctioned soft interventions to calm the erratic students, however ineffective. Or as I have learned from Special Ed teachers, wear gloves, leather jackets or long sleeved shirts to protect yourself from bodily scratches from your students, and face mask to keep yourself safe of germs when your students deliberately cough in your face.

It is an absolutely traumatizing experience, feeling trapped amidst a group of 10 eight to 15 year-old students, where the ‘wise’ decision a teacher can make is, walk around on eggshells with such trepidation that s/he could get beat up anytime by her/his students, who are protected by claims of ‘partial’ or ‘full-insanity’. Sadly, as parents, we are not doing much to support the teachers efforts of educating and nurturing their children into better students. Instead, we pile all our failures at parenting our children onto the teachers, sending them to school when we have failed to control them, then subsequently accuse teachers of not doing a great job educating and catering to the special needs of their children! We blame all bad habits that our children develop on the school environment and teachers’ negligence, even when our home environment is very explosive with negative influences on our children.

Perhaps planners, programmers, managers and administrators of education programs for special needs students need to prioritize the special needs of teachers as equally important as those of the students they are enjoined to teach. Special needs teachers need as much emotional, psychological, physical, classroom and social support to ensure they stay excel in their classroom. It is mind boggling to expect two teachers, moreover female, to manage a classroom of  eight autistic/post-hospitalization/emotional behavioral students, some emotionally charged and hyper-active behavior,  running out of the classrooms and screaming in the hallways! Or expect a teacher to remain aloof to beatings, scratchings everyday, as a reaction from a student getting mad  because s/he did not get it his way!

Special Ed teachers, especially ones dealing with emotional/behavioral needs students should be provided reinforcement in terms of security or classroom environments or permission to apply techniques to protect their lives, as well as the lives of other students in the classrooms when dealing with those students who turn violent. Moreover, special ed teachers should be provided with the human resource proportional to the needs of their classrooms to help.

Starting off the Year with a BANG!

Perhaps there is no more endorsement of the need to do good than the current state of economic affairs in Uganda. The vibrancy of the 9th Uganda Parliament also adds to the justification to “do good”. After all, they put themselves out there to finally tackle the “war on corruption” in Uganda’s public sector. Far too long, politicians have colluded with private entities to rob the state of all its resources from big tracks of land, schools, medicines, to chalk and even seemingly unimportant things like bicycles! What do people who get free new 4WDs need bicycles for? Don’t ask me; you tell me?

In many of these incidents, the President of Uganda has been implicated either as an active authority or by directives issued from his office. Remember the order to pay Burundi an exorbitant amount of money, for aiding National Resistance Army (NRA) –NOT UGANDA- war ventures to capture power against the then ruling government of Uganda in 1986. Questions were asked, “Why should the Ugandan tax payer have to foot the bill of a private guerilla group?” not democratically constituted as a representative of the people of Uganda? But it is just mere questions, and for the most part, that is where it all ends in Uganda! Not enough? Even when the Burundi government forgave the NRA the interest accrued on the debt, Mr. Museveni is said to have reinstated the debt, arguably because, “Burundi is a poor country that should not be allowed to “debt-forgive” Uganda!” Surprised there? Well, this is the same president that gifts UGX300 to Rwanda education when Universal Primary Education in Uganda is stinking. Or perhaps he is reminding us that we should give, no matter how big our immediate problems, right?

Even more telling is the recently rumored impending talks between archenemies, Mr. Museveni and Mr. Besigye. The President and his arch-rival Besigye, are willing to give of their time to restore peace and trust in Uganda; yeah right! Perhaps the human has a larger heart than we give them credit for, uhm! So why not make this year a giving year.

In my immediate family, we started off this year with a BANG! In giving spirits. We collected all clothing and household items that we no longer use at home, and reached out to friends to join our “Giving to the People of Busabala” end of year donation drive. On Tuesday January 3, 2012, we delivered our donation to Busabala. It was a fabulous moment for us. The day, Tuesday, January 3, also happened to be my one-year anniversary of surviving getting killed by a matatu driver as I was jogging in the morning at 6:25a around Rubaga. What a beautiful way to celebrate my life! Of course, my son was with me, as we delivered our gifts to the people of Busabala!!

While the event organizing was wanting (the LC Chair had not informed everybody, plus there was a death and burial in the village that day), we were able to put on a show and left many people excited. With the help of the area Local Council, we delivered and distributed  shoes, clothes for women and children, beddings, table clothes and a few goodies for men. Men also collected clothes and shoes for their daughters and wives. I admit we did not have plenty for men, but they stayed around and shared in the fun. Interestingly though, boys partook in some of the clothing we had assumed was for women. That is the village for you; anything goes!  Another interesting incident is when a woman who had previously kept away from claiming her share of the clothing donation, supposedly because”she does not wear dead people’s clothes, turned around and began hustling with the others for a share! My brother, who runs a “soccer for education” academy for abandoned children and children off the streets brought his soccer team for a game with the Busabala team, which we (the visiting team) won 2:1. It was a funEx and added flavor. My brother also promised to follow up with future donations to the Busabala soccer team, including training, balls and jerseys.

It was such a wonderful opportunity joining my mother to give back, and give the people of Busabala. My mother has been doing this for over five years while I was not in Uganda, as a token of appreciation to the people who look out for her property while she is not on site. She is a giving person, and teaches us to continue giving.

So, let us spread the spirit and heart of giving. Let us give to those who are less fortunate. Let us give because it is a better way to spend that extra penny we would have spent on a beer, another iPad, airtime, at Javas at a pork joint or some unnecessary car accessory.

Because we are Wholesome Communitarians