By Elizabeth Stein
“Reality 101” is the perfect title for this blog. As you begin your teaching career, your belief systems (your reality) merge with the real world (the reality of others). It can be quite overwhelming when your ideas merge with the thinking of others. As a special education teacher, you will be expected to collaborate with many colleagues—and not all will have the same belief systems as you. You will work collaboratively to make recommendations for students, or teach alongside a general education teacher who may not share your passion or philosophy, or talk with a parent who is not fully at the acceptance stage—and you may be left feeling a bit dizzy. If so…CONGRATULATIONS…you have entered the real world!
Hello fellow special educators! Welcome to one of the most rewarding professions. Let’s break here for a quick introduction…
I am a special education teacher in Long Island’s Smithtown Central School District. I teach within inclusive and resource-room settings. Teaching education courses at the college level is one way I love to share my passion for teaching and learning. Writing is another way. Thus far, my words have been published in the March 2008 edition of NEA Today. In addition, you can read my article, Teach Kids to Think and They’ll Want to Learn, in Educator’s Voice, Volume II, published by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). I am also pursuing National Board certification in the area of literacy.
I am beyond thrilled to be the blog host for the month of September! I have been teaching since the early '90s. When I first started, many colleagues told me that I was excited about teaching because I was new. They sighed, groaned, and said, “Wait a few years.” I remember thinking, What are they talking about? I knew way back then that my passion for teaching and learning would never dwindle. I knew it would only intensify. And it has.
Having a clear understanding of your own personal values is critical as you begin your career. And it can limit that feeling of “dizziness” when realities merge. With the knowledge of your beliefs, you will know what really matters to you and why you became a teacher in the first place. This becomes your focused strength. When you have your core values set…you will grow personally and professionally. And your core values will evolve as you evolve.
So what are your core values? You can begin by answering the following questions (these help me to stay focused throughout the year):
- Why did you want to become a teacher?
- What is most important to you as a teacher?
- What does effective instruction look like?
- How do you make your beliefs come alive in the classroom?
- What professional goals do you have for yourself for this school year? (Make sure to align your goals with your values to sustain the motivation, enthusiasm, and energy you will need to succeed.)
If we ask 50 teachers these questions, we are likely to get 50 different responses. And all of them would be correct. Thinking about your answers to these questions can be invigorating in that it can help you tackle the day-to-day goings-on with a clear focus.
Knowing your values will help you be more deliberate in your actions and more confident about your decisions (and there are plenty of those each day!). You will find the focus and integrity to stay true to yourself and make the right decisions for each situation—all while respecting the perspective of others.
Here’s an exercise to extend your reflection of your core values. We’ve all heard this popular philosophical statement (and we all agree with it, I’m sure):
- But what exactly does it mean? How would you (or do you) show this belief in your classroom? What are you and your students doing?
- Do you think general education teachers and special education teachers have similar ideas about core values?