By Aleisa Rhoades, Chandler Special Education Teacher
When my older daughters were growing up, it was difficult to find good options for public education in Oklahoma City. Education was suffering at that time. When I was growing up there, we attended Putnam City Public Schools, which was considered the best available during that time. My older daughter attended the same schools I did, while my younger daughter attended a private Catholic school. I am not sure why I had bias toward public education at that time, other than the facts of under-funding, constant need for good teachers and lack of communication between teachers, students and parents. My oldest had many of the same teachers I had and even a principal, who was my coach in junior high. What I began to find, was my younger needed additional assistance in school due to ADHD and private school did not offer this. I feel this is what prompted me to become a special education teacher.
I can remember all of my teachers through grade school, most through middle school and two throughout high school. Those two and many others made a profound impact on my life, school was an escape from my (less than perfect) home life and I excelled in school. However, I chose to marry and have children rather than seek the traditional path of attending college directly after graduating. Once I decided I wanted to become a teacher (My first career was food and beverage), I plugged away at two jobs and college for seven years part time. I knew I loved children and “Children need help everywhere”. This I learned from a fellow educator, as I took my first teaching job in the inner city.
I have been a high school special education teacher now for 21 years and now teach in a smaller town outside of Oklahoma City. I enjoy high school students, because, if allowed, they have many good ideas and questions about our world, the world they will soon inherit. I have a resource room and teach math and English for students with all disabilities. These students also come in for tutoring, testing and many times food. I run a small food pantry for any kid who is hungry and they are all chronically hungry. I also work with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DRS) to run a School Work Study Program for those kids who qualify. They learn many skills and earn money through their elective classes.
I teach with my husband, Ty, as he also became a “second career” Special Education teacher. We have all of the special students in our high school. He takes the younger high school students, while I have the older grades. We consider our program very successful. One of my professors told our class once, “Special Education isn’t a class, it’s a program.” This is true. You must work with all administrators, teachers, parents and students in order to holistically educate these children, successfully. There are many odds against this group of kids and school and peers haven’t been kind to them. They do not love it. This, in addition to learning differences makes for a difficult bill to sell them. I encourage them to attend Vo-tech for a trade or skill, as we do not have enough of these workers in our society, and it is much more geared for them, or vice versa.
During this time, I am missing my “kiddos”, as we are in Distance Learning. I pray for them and their families. I worry about the learning curve we will experience dropping in the future and the need to keep kids engaged and working. I feel our students will buy into education, if we do and hope during this time, they miss school, their friends (even me), for whatever reasons. When we return, we may see a paradigm shift on how education should be run. Many may opt for online; many will continue to need additional help and many will excel. However, this doesn’t change my role to facilitate their learning, listen to their ideas and watch them grow up to change our world for the better. I encourage anyone who loves children and learning to become a teacher. I feel it is the most gratifying profession of all, as it is the most important to shape young minds.
One of the most satisfying for me is the conversations we have in class. The kids pride themselves on getting teachers distracted. What they don’t know, is many teachers value the honest conversations and questions kids have about real life. I feel it is of utmost importance to have these conversations, and now more than ever, we need to have them and attempt to honestly and objectively answer questions or prompt further ones. This is the path to solving deep rooted problems of our world, their world. To me, this is invaluable and is the difference-maker in education. I feel like the two teachers I remember the most in high school did those things.
Many students tell me they hate school or many of their teachers don’t care. What I find, is their parents didn’t love school either. This is not something easily remedied, but can be. Many times, I make it my mission to “win the parent over” first. Therefore, I now not only educate the student… I also like to tell my students “The day I quit caring, is the day I quit!” If kids know you are honest, and genuinely care, they tend to perform better and behave better. Most students would rather look obstinate then stupid. Many have low self-esteem coupled with all the other issues they face. Therefore, school isn’t just Math, English, Science and History.
When we do return to school, there will be a need to become more tech savvy. For this, I will rely on my students. Aah, the teacher has now become the student! But this is also an invaluable tool. Allowing students to help me and teach me things they know raises their self-esteem, engages them in a two-way channel of communication and gives them power. We all know that when you teach, you learn. Finally, I am pleased at the opportunity to share my experience. I feel my community of school, parents and children have been a gift for me and my husband. We find our best defense is to be in touch with parents, be very open and honest with our kids and do the best we can every day, modeling hard work, understanding and exploring our world through history, unity and kindness. This eliminates much of the discipline problems and makes our job much more enjoyable. We all should enjoy what we do.