Sweet Saturday, a day that is all mine, a day that requires nothing from me. As I linger over my coffee, sitting on my front porch in the morning light, I reflect upon the past week in the classroom. I am eight to ten years away from retirement and a member of the first generation of Special Education Teachers. We have come so far!
This year I have been experimenting with Apple technology, Ipads, Ipods and a Macbookpro have opened my classroom to new possibilities. Using the app Proloque2go for communication has eliminated printing, cutting and laminating expenses to make communication boards and books. My time is not spent (on Sat.) making word symbols and designing visual schedules.
Yet we have further to go. The technology I am using has been acquired through grant writing, my own personal funds and donations. It is not supported by our district and I am pushing against many naysayers. People above me are noticing as the students produce podcasts, webpages and communicate effectively with the technology, yet as I push the envelope, I feel frustrated and alone, wishing for support, collaboration and connections with others.
Living on an island has its advantages, but when it comes to connection with the world, professional collaboration and professional development, our geography limits my participation with like-minded colleagues.Travel to universities to take courses, being in a larger school with teachers who do what I do is not possible here.
Our district technology does not allow me to collaborate, other than the use of e-mail, and I am the only teacher in the field of young adult learners (ages18-22), with disabilities. Our school staff does not see what we in special ed do as a viable contribution to the school as a whole. Therefore at home, on my own time, I reach out through Personal Learning Networks (PLN), Nings, and other Social Media, but I feel like a fish out of water there, lacking some skills in how to participate, develop relationships in cyberspace.
CEC (Council for Exceptional Children) has become my source. Attendance at last years National Conference put passion and determination back into my career. I am determined to attend again this year, do not know how, but I am going!
I have learned what can happen with open use of technology, not just in the field of special education. I am hungry to learn more and to expand into the Global Educational world. It seems as professionals, we have isolated ourselves into a classroom and become territorial over our specialized curriculums, which holds us back as a system.
The people who make policy decisions do not look into the classroom, tend to see things from a specific agenda. I wonder when we will start walking in each others shoes? My degree in educational administration, ( I do not want to be in the front office!), gave me knowledge of what the administrator does, it helps me to understand the policy they have to adhere to, helps me to solve my own problems at the classroom level, keeping things compliant to policy, yet I still question the policy, seeing it as antiquated and want to change it!
To think from a Global point of view, to throw open the doors and allow communication to flow into our classrooms is a scary thing. It challenges paradigms of the educational system. Yet to learn, to grow, we have to challenge the things that are not working. We have to take personal responsibility as professionals to change, to meet the needs of the 21st century student.
I never thought I would become my parents, become part of the “establishment” yet, here I am, at the end of my career, looking at the middle 50’s, and determined not to be set in my ways. Our youth does not have the privilege of working hard, pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, joining a union, having a 401K and saving for the future…..all the things we were taught to prepare ourselves for retirement and to move through the career ladder are not the same for this next generation. We owe it to them to change how we teach, how we relate to them and how we challenge them. I want my students to become more than a jobless statistic waiting for unemployment, waiting for the SSI check, and working in an Adult Day Training Center, living in a group home for people with disabilities. I want them to have their dream, to experience independence to the highest possible level.
My dream for our profession is that we band together to give all students creative thinking, and the ability to find a new pathway to employment, to think outside the box and create a 21st Century world that we will be comfortable leaving as a legacy. This means we have to change, we have to forget the paper, pencil, book and teacher manual pedagogy that we learned. Unlearning things that we relied upon and has become routine is scary!
Now is the time for us as educators to embrace the opportunity to become part of the dialogue that our country is having regarding educational reform, to bring it to the local level, to educate the policy makers in the front offices.
We can fight change, we can become that teacher sitting in the comfort of tenure, get resentful, bide our time and/or quit, or we can embrace it, learn, grow and become proud of the legacy we leave. Which road will you choose?