Keeping retirement weird. Specials.

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One of my third graders exploring the possibilities of rotational symmetry (2009).

I was back at school this past week.

When I go back to the elementary school where I last taught, fewer students are there who remember me.

The kindergarten students I had are now in fourth grade. The fourth grade students are in middle school.

I was back again on Wednesday for the holiday sing rehearsal. Everyone sings for everyone.

On Thursday it would be different. Half the grades will sing for parents and grandparents in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

I love the rehearsal.

A fifth grader greets me in the hall. “Hey, Mr. Ka-lonsky!”

Of course, the kids did great. Ms Seputis, the music teacher, prepared them well, as she does every year.

We were special comrades, Ms Seputis and I. Music and Art are those rare school subjects in which the work the students do is intended for an audience beyond the classroom.

There is performance and exhibition.

For years we Art and Music teachers were known as specials. That meant we were not a core subject.

Both No Child Left Behind and the newly authorized Every Student Succeeds Act declared the Arts as core subjects. But with many schools going without the Arts at all, and even the elementary districts that have the funds to include it in their course of study limit it to an hour or so a week, it is hardly a core reality.

The Arts are not on the test.

A small favor.

I didn’t mind being called a special, although I always assumed it was a title meant to be somewhat demeaning.

I chose to embrace the title. We were special!

Even though a few of my colleagues viewed us as little more than their planning time.

I didn’t blame them. They needed and deserved planning time.

As I listened to the students singing holiday songs in the gym, I thought back on the best ten years of my career.

Back then, ours was what they called a cluster school. Students in the district with special needs like Autism or Down Syndrome came to our school where the district concentrated services.

One Friday we were told that the following week our school would provide full inclusion for all our special needs students.

I think a parent filed suit. School districts don’t act quickly on issues concerning special education without a law or a law suit.

None of us had been prepared for this. No preparation was provided.

With little support from district administration we teachers and support staff struggled to make inclusion work. It is a great story of what professional teachers do. It is a story that demonstrates the difference between teachers as professionals and the latest fad  of phony alternative teacher preparation and certification, of putting five-week miracles in front of a class of students.

It is a story I will tell you some time.

Just before I retired, and in the three and a half years since, they have moved to end the cluster idea. And inclusion is a practice that must be fought for every day. Law or no law.

The idea of full inclusion needs a level of support that has become costly in a time of school austerity. Perhaps it will take another lawsuit.

For me, those ten years that we tried to make it work were difficult, challenging and important.

I was lucky to be there.

Very special.

8 Replies to “Keeping retirement weird. Specials.”

  1. Fred:

    I stop in to your blog from time to time and always find it informative. As you can probably imagine, I found this thread to be particularly important.

    Carpenter School was the first organized educational experience our daughter ever had. Our family had every emotion from excitement to complete terror as she got on the bus for her first day of school. The stories about teachers and support staff and what you all did for my daughter and our family are too numerous to mention here. You all may have struggled but believe me when I say that you made it work!

    Watching the Holiday Sing DVD’s has become a part of our holiday tradition.

    Happy holidays to you and your family and thanks for all you did and do.


    Paige’s Dad

  2. In my district high school we had one counselor delivering services to all the SPED students. A lot to be said for that approach and it worked well when the numbers were manageable. Once the numbers out grew manageability the person retired and the students were spread across all the other counselors. The result was a huge leaning experience at times not positive for some.

  3. Knew this was coming. Terrifying, & hope the parents fight back like crazy.
    Iur district tried to do this way back in 1989–faculty was assumed (incorrectly) to be ignorant of the law, & the sp.ed. director told us that the district would go to total inclusion, because, “it’s the law–it’s mandated” (as the former sp.ed. director had taught her to tell us, because he’d told her that none of the teachers “know the law”). Well, unfortunately for her, at least 2 of us did–we had taken classes in both school law & sp.ed. law, & NOWHERE in either the federal or state laws was (& is NOT now, either) inclusion “mandated.” (I had also gone to 2 of the hearings–when McGee was supt.–& by the sheer volume of those testifying against it–parents for their kids, paras, teachers &, of course, the advocate extraordinaire, Bev Johns–it was NOT mandated–don’t think it even was voted on by the ISBE.
    Anyhow–long story short–this is where the UNION comes in (you know, that evil entity, only for members & NOT for kids?). We filed a grievance–had to base it on the contract, of course, that this was an unauthorized language/definition of job change. Of course, it went all the way to the Board
    (the supt. didn’t even show the sp.ed. director any support at that Board meeting)–we gave members an almost 300-page document–testimony form nearly every teacher in the district about how harmful this would be–to both the sp.ed. kids & the gen.ed. kids. After a closed session, the Board President furiously ordered the sp.ed. director to immediately cease & desist.
    PREA & District 64 parents go to it, & good luck–I think you can win this one
    (& make sure you pore over the ESSA, making sure that it says nothing about total inclusion).

    1. Chaya,
      I’m not sure you understood the story. First of all, this isn’t current. This all took place 15 years ago. Secondly, although administration handled the process as they usually do, our teachers (including me) supported the efforts to make our school as inclusive as possible. Not only because the law calls for the least restrictive environment, but, most of all, because we believed that the most diverse instructional settings are the best ones for typical and special needs students. Parents didn’t oppose it. They supported it. In fact, the main people who made our work difficult were special education administrators and special education experts who never supported us in creating the most inclusive instructional settings possible for most special needs students as possible.

  4. Right–I did misread it, & I remember that you had posted it a while back. (I’m
    mortified at my huge mistake!)
    Inclusion, as everyone knows, is not always the “least restrictive environment.” It certainly should be utilized when it is in the best interests of the child (& the multidisciplinary team has made that determination, which, of course, includes the parents {most important}). The best practice, though, continues to be the existence of a continuum of services available, and that’s why we have I.E.P.s, so the educational setting is, indeed, individualized based on each student’s needs. As a resource teacher, a self-contained teacher & an early childhood sp.ed. teacher who’s been in pre-K-8, I know that Inclusion can work beautifully, but it is not the best environment for every sp.ed. student.

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