I was hired as a moderate/intensive intervention specialist with about 12 weeks left in the 2011–12 school year to work with two students: a young man who has an autism spectrum disorder and a young Amish girl whose diagnosis is still a bit of a mystery. By the time the school year ended, I had picked up two more students: a female high school sophomore and a male kindergartener. I really had no time then to think about how I felt. I had a job. It was time to get busy.
When I return to the classroom this fall, I will have four students—all four of them boys with emotional or behavioral disabilities. I am beginning with four; I surmise that there may be room to add others as the year progresses.
My first 12 weeks as an intervention specialist were an amazing adventure filled with all sorts of mayhem, chaos, and learning for all of us in the classroom as I learned about alternate assessment, staff relations, ‘bumping,’ IEP writing, and teaching. This summer I have had time to think about being a teacher–an entire summer and the feeling that keeps showing up is fear.
First, with all due modesty, my first 12 weeks as an intervention specialist were fairly successful. We reduced the young man’s meltdowns so drastically that we were measuring them monthly instead of as they had been measured: daily. We were also able to increase his bank of sight words by about 30 percent, get him back to eating in the lunchroom, visit the OT & PT in their rooms, and visit the nurse on his own. Therein is my fear: how can I live up to the standards I have already established? People will have different expectations this year and the only things I am certain of at this point is that this year will be a lot different than last (in a thousand ways), that I have a lot to learn, and that the year will be long (this is a marathon, not a sprint). I am pleased with the successes we had, but I am not so naïve to think that they will be easily replicated (or at all). Nor am I content to live on those successes because it’s not about me.
Second, there is the issue of curriculum. Mine is a brand new classroom and I am a brand new teacher. There is a great deal of responsibility that goes along with developing curriculum for the diverse group of students I have. I am not a little fearful of being able to continually develop age and developmentally appropriate, engaging, standards-based curriculum for my students (not to mention keeping up with behavioral interventions and functional curriculum). This is not graduate school where we have weeks to prepare one or two lessons to demonstrate for our peers. This is the everyday stuff that is real life for these kids and their families: five or six subjects per day.
Third, there is the issue of what I call ‘intervention restraint.’ If I have learned anything in life, graduate school, at the many conferences/workshops I have attended, and in the many books I have read, it is this: collect data, analyze data, use data, save data, engage data. It is foolish to have a student with a disability and start hurling interventions at him until one of them sticks. I have tools in my toolbox, yes, but I think we can all admit the importance of having enough data to support the use of a particular tool. I am a little afraid of my lack of patience because I am a fixer, I like to see things accomplished and we only have so much time with the kids each day, month, and year. On the other hand, I have an entire year, not just 12 weeks. I can afford to be patient.
It goes without saying that I have other fears I have to wrestle with as the school year approaches. Maybe you have fears too—even if you are a seasoned professional. I try to overcome my fears (maybe fear is normal and healthy in teaching) by remembering that I am surrounded by other teachers, outstanding paraprofessionals, and the best principal in the world—all of whom are supportive, kind and encouraging. I also know that my students wake up every day, come to school, and they have their own fears to overcome. I may be the teacher, but my students are my mentors—mentors in the daily struggle to overcome fear.
What about you? What fear and trepidation are you experiencing as the new school year approaches? What do you do to overcome your fears?