Sisyphus of the Classroom

As a special ed teacher, part of my job is to “push into” classrooms and assist my kids as they do their class work.  The law is specific about the distinction between “pushing in” vs “pulling out”.  The latter refers to taking kids out of the classroom to teach them in a smaller setting whether it be one-on-one or in a small group.  The thinking behind push in is to ensure that the child is being kept with the rest of his peers as much as possible so as to maintain a sense of inclusivity. 

However, when you have a student that is so lost and so far behind their peers, helping them to do work that is beyond their grasp feels like a huge exercise in futility.  I have 5th graders who are academically and emotionally on a first grade level.  It’s disheartening to see their frustration over not being able to keep up with the class.  The gen ed teacher has enough challenges at any given time and can’t slow down the pace of class or go back to help the one child who needs the most help.  In my experience, attempting to help a kid do long division who cannot do basic addition and subtraction is like placing a scalpel into the hands of a middle-school biology student and forcing them to do bypass surgery. 

No one is winning in this scenario.  The special Ed teacher leaves the classroom feeling as if they accomplished nothing while the child ends up feeling defeated after failing to succeed.  Even worse, that child falls further behind.  All that time could be used for specialized instruction to help the kid catch up but instead we are increasing the chasm between them and their peers.

The whole thing feels broken to me. There are days where I think that if I had just stayed in bed all day instead of going to work, the kids’ lives would be just the same. When I am at my most defeated, it’s the tiny things that bring me back for one more day: the kid who seems excited to say “hi” to me whose name I don’t know because he’s not one of my students; another child who runs up to hug me; watching the Kindergarteners walk down the hall; helping to turn the day around for a kid who is struggling. Sometimes, it’s these tiny things that keep me from turning in my resignation.