As I recently prepared to report anticipated enrollment numbers for next year, I scanned the names I so dearly love. I noted that I will be releasing, from special education, at least 50% of my students, and possibly more by the end of May. I smiled at the thought that by the end of the following school year, I may succeed in becoming unnecessary at that school.
I have had these children for one semester. A couple students have already been moved back into some regular classes, so are with me on a limited basis only. Some I could release now if I were willing to ignore the total needs of children and be satisfied that I at least taught them to read. However, they will be academically stronger to face the coming years if they learn some Greek and Latin roots, while receiving a few more pats on the back. I am very proud of how far my students have come, although I will miss them greatly when they go.
My thoughts went back to a revealed paper that I had to write as one portion of graduate final exams at Manchester University, England. I was there for the 1976—77 school year, and the issue I had chosen to address was, Training Teachers of the Deaf in the 1980’s. I knew that a large scholarly textbook would hardly discuss such a broad topic with skill and closure, but I had an idea of how I might use the assignment to suggest that special education teachers should be working towards putting themselves out-of-work.
We were given one week to research our topics, but were allowed to take no notes into the three-hour exam. We were expected to have every footnote and resource memorized. I arrived at the exam feeling relaxed and comfortable while my friends looked harried and in dire need of sleep. They wrote under stress and worried about the time limit; I, at the halfway point, requested an escort so that I could leave the room for a leisurely cigarette. When time was called my friends looked worn and weary. I felt the normal relief of having completed a three-hour, high-stakes, written exam at a major university.
My Chilean and Venezuelan friends/neighbors, plus fellow students from my program, were all eager to discuss our exams, so we gathered for another typical evening in my flat: a few glasses of wine; the passing of the guitar until everyone had contributed a song or two (Donna and I always did Country Roads — not well, but with spirit and a touch of homesickness), and hours of interesting conversation. I was asked about the strategy I had used for writing my exam. (I love to think strategically; seems to be one of my strengths.)
I explained that I had planned my paper so that no one could find me in error, and that, since I was not in the mood to memorize a bunch of footnotes and sources, I had only chosen two: The Saber-Toothed Curriculum, by Peddiwell, and Future Shock by Toffler.
My logic proceeded like this: Toffler had predicted that scientists would be cloning by the 1980’s. Once that occurred, medical researchers would surely initiate the creation of new body parts. Ears would probably be one of their first efforts, since deafness is so devastating to its victims. If replacement ears became available, they would more than likely be first allotted to deaf children. Once all deaf children could hear, there would be no need for teachers of the deaf. With no need for teachers of the deaf…there would be no reason to train teachers of the deaf in the 1980’s.
Much to the shock of my friends, I passed my exam. A few years later I returned to Manchester to visit my advisor/instructor, Mr. Geoffrey Redgate, who greeted me with a chuckle as he asked, “So…how is future shock treating you?”
The writing of that exam may appear as a bit of fun, but it was serious business for me. From that one exam; that one strategy; I developed a basic tenet for my entire teaching career — that I would always do everything possible to put myself out of a job; to make special education an unnecessary label; an unnecessary class for other than truly physically and mentally disabled individuals.
I never get them all out, but I do try. I release them as fast as I can repair fractured self-confidence and reteach missing or fractured academic skills.
I worry when I hear the hue and cry of “Reading first!” suspecting that, although many well-meaning people are involved in the project, most will not pause to consider the fact that the whole child must be loved, nurtured, and carefully taught while the child develops the confidence to see himself or herself as capable, competent and intelligent enough to learn to read; as curious enough to love to learn. Then the process of educating can really begin.
Now the issues I prefer to address are: Training Special Education Teachers to Repair, Reteach, and Release Special Education Students ASAP; and Training All Teachers to Teach So As to Prevent Special Education Placements.
How satisfying it would be to no longer be needed.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.