“It seems to me
I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am
I guess that’s why they call me
They call me the workin’ man.”– Geddy Lee
I promise this all has a point in the end. My teaching style got passed down to me honestly. I like to tell stories. These stories always have a point, but sometimes it just takes a little longer to get there then most people would like. My first love was always history because it afforded me the opportunity to tell those stories. I haven’t taught history in quite some time.
I have two primary jobs at the current time. I am a case manager for special education students. That means that I write and participate in their annual ARDs and I monitor their progress throughout the year. That usually means calling or emailing home when things are not going well or pulling them out of class to motivate them to do their work.
My second job is support facilitation. That’s a fancy title for someone that goes into support a teacher with special education students. They usually are not my particular students on my case load. I am there to support them in that particular class. Usually it is English, but I have been in social studies, math, and science classes as well.
The idea behind support facilitation is relatively new. It is based on the idea that students will do better if they stay within the regular classroom rather than being pulled out. As an added bonus, I get to work with all students, so it is like having two teachers in the classroom. Some teachers are better than others at using a second teacher. In some rooms I am a glorified tutor and second hand waking up students and going around to offer help on assignments. In other rooms I actually get to do some teaching.
I have been doing this particular job for eight years now. I enjoy it more than old-fashioned teaching for a few reasons. First, it affords me the opportunity to see multiple teachers at work. I’ve learned more about the art of teaching in the last eight years than I did in the first fifteen. That comes from simply observing different teachers and how they do things. Sometimes, it’s a lesson of what to do and sometimes it is a lesson of what not to do.
The second major advantage is that I am not responsible for lesson plans or for grades. I can help plan the lesson if the teacher wants to use me as a resource, but I am not responsible. It affords me the opportunity to have a different relationship with students. I am a helper and therefore most see me as more of an ally than an adversary.
The pressure comes on the other end. I am there to make sure they succeed. When my students fail, I am usually the first person called on the carpet. What did I do to help them be successful? This is where documentation comes in. How many times did I call home? Did I pull them out and work with them individually? Did I work with the teacher to make sure their accommodations were given to them? I need to have proof of all of these things.
In most years this is not an issue. Our students pass the vast majority of the time. I’d love to tell you it is because of how good I am. Maybe I am good, but I’d give the students the credit most of the time. They do the work on their own with a little help. This year has been different.
I work at a special place. It is a place that fits in with my vision for education and the one I’ve had for a long time. It is a school where students learn a particular trade they can use to get a job in the field they choose. We have more than 30 of them in total. Students can easily come out of high school making 15 dollars an hour and more in their particular trade. In some cases they can earn as much as 25 or 30 dollars an hour.
That kind of carrot makes it easy to motivate students. We have literally graduated every student the last few years. We have had 100 percent accepted to go to college in past years. We have a literal handful every year we worry about earning enough credit for make it to the next grade level. This is at a campus of nearly 1500 students.
That is until this year. Now, we have nearly 200 students that might not advance to the next grade level or graduate on time. That’s up from the normal ten that we have every year. Something is missing. Everyone in education knows exactly what it is and we have no idea of how to fix it in the short-term. Our students don’t feel connected.
Our schools succeeds because every student sees their future. They see a career in a field they love and they know they have to graduate and pass the state licensing tests (or other certification tests) to get the job they want. They are motivated to be here. They choose to be here. That connection hasn’t been there this year because many are still at home and the ones here are barred from doing the kinds of activities we used to take for granted. These are hands on activities that can’t be replicated on a computer.
It makes my job much harder. Fortunately, our administration team understands the bind we are in. They understand how hard it is to support a special needs student through Zoom. They realize how hard it is to support students that have missed more school than they’ve attended. They understand how hard it is to support students that feel disconnected. That makes explaining it easier, but it doesn’t make performing the job any easier.
I say all this to say this: there are real costs to having students stay home. As good as we are and as creative as we are, we cannot replicate the connection students have here. So, I get those that want to damn the torpedoes and bring everyone back. I also get those reluctant to do so. The infection rates are real and I’m not sure we can get every student vaccinated by next year. So, here we are. We are at an impasse and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.