Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Alternative Certification in Elementary Special Education

The reason I want to become a teacher is that I want to teach Special Education. And I want to teach SpEd because the majority of children in SpEd have autism. I believe that, being on the spectrum myself, I can relate to the autistic children in a way neurotypical teachers can't.

To do this, I have to go through alternative certification. That means going through an alternative certification program. The majority of this program is dedicated to teaching us classroom management. This has meant a lot of large-group presentations with accompanying "ice-breakers." Having to be in the middle of a huge group of strangers is of course bad enough, but then having to engage in these "ice-breakers" that are both so incredibly transparent to me and which does not seem to actually break the ice or allow you to actually interact with anyone long enough to get to know them ("Hi. I'm Troy. I'm doing Elementary SpEd. You?" They answer, then before anything else is said, we're told to sit.) makes the entire thing borderline intolerable.

They bombard you with social interactions and then have you watch videos of social interactions (teachers teaching students, demonstrating certain classroom management techniques) and ask you to say what you saw. This seems easy enough for the vast majority of people, but for someone like me, it's just a confusion. I don't know what I'm seeing. I need to be told what to look for so I know what I'm seeing.

It would be sort of like asking you to take a quick look at a a group of complex organic molecule and then telling me what you saw. There are a few who can do it, but most cannot. If I asked you to look for ring structures and tell me how many you saw, though, almost everyone could do it. Understand that seeing an unfamiliar social situation and asking me what I saw is like having someone do the first scenario. There were a few times when someone asked to see the video again. When that happened, I had a better chance of understanding what was going on. I need repetition and to be told what to look for. So the entire training is, for me, backwards.

That was all day, Monday through Friday, last week. This week and the next four weeks we are teaching summer school (2nd grade Reading and Math for me) 8am-1pm and training 2pm-5:30pm. While teaching, we have a mentor teacher watching us and a coach to assesses us. I will be assessed on whether or not I am doing proper classroom management and if I have all the right things up on the walls in the right places at the right time.

All of this is extremely overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and exhausting. I'm about to collapse from exhaustion every day--and I mean from the moment I wake I am exhausted.

We on the spectrum are easily exhausted by all of these kinds of things. In no small part because our brains are dominated by positive feedback, meaning the more we work our brains, the more our brains work. But positive feedback in a limited system (like the brain) doesn't just go entirely out of control. No, it undergoes a boom-and-bust cycle. Boom it too much and it crashes pretty hard.

The problem is that the time there is not all our day. No, we also have to plan our lessons and make everything the kids need and copy everything, etc. We are completely responsible for all of these things. Thus, we in fact have 16+ hour days. This is impossible for someone on the spectrum---not working for 16+ hours, which we are more than capable of going (for our obsessions), but engaging in a high degree of social interactions and social learning as well as this much work.

What is worse is that since I am going to be a SpEd teacher, I won't actually be doing all of the things they are teaching me on a regular basis. Don't get me wrong. It's useful information that I'm sure I'll use on occasion. But if I have a SpEd classroom, none of this will work because the children will not respond to these sorts of social pressures and subtle movements. And if I'm a pullout teacher, I will only have a few children at a table, where I will be interacting with them in small groups or even one-on-one. And the main teacher will be doing all of that.

So in theory, I could bomb this training and not get hired for a position that doesn't really require any of this training.

Fortunately, I believe this is only theoretical, since I do have a decade of teaching experience---meaning, I have good presence and a "teacher's voice" already in place. Since I mostly taught college students, I didn't have to stand and scan, but it's surprising how many techniques I already developed all the same.

The goal, then, is to survive the next four weeks, pass the certification test, and find a full time Elementary SpEd job.

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