As a former special education teacher, there were many, many days that I was more of a counselor than a teacher. Kids who are hurting or raging are not usually good students. And for the record, I went to school to be a teacher. Because I like to help people. However, there were no counseling classes in my course of study to become a special education teacher.
I once mentioned this to one of my former professors and he told me I should remember my role as a special education teacher. I wasn't a counselor. Do my job and let the counselors do theirs.
But wasn't my role to help children? No matter what?
If they were hungry, I don't think anyone would have argued the need for anyone (even the teacher) getting the child food. We wouldn't look at a teacher handing a child a banana or some crackers and say, "Well, look at that. This teacher is obviously confused and thinks she is a nutritionist. We should get her a hair net..."
Teachers wear a variety of hats every day. Sometimes all at the same time. All in the name of being everything for the children. And often, school becomes one giant therapy session.
After teaching for only three years (yeah, yeah, screw up, move up), I became a special education coordinator. This basically meant that I helped the special education teachers with meetings, writing IEPs, and with classroom issues. At first, I was shocked at how needy many of the teachers were. I expected the neediness to come from some of the parents. Without a doubt, it is emotional when people are sitting around a big table to discuss the issues your child is having. But time and time again, most of the tissues were for overwhelmed, frustrated, overworked, tired, and burnt-out teachers.
During my year as the special education coordinator, I applied for an assistant principal job never expecting to get it. First of all, I was still in school working on my leadership degree. And second of all, I didn't have much experience. Applying for the job was meant to be for interview practice. I just wanted to see how what to expect. Besides, I really wasn't convinced that administration was for me.
You could have bowled me over with a feather when the announcement was made during a board meeting that I was the new assistant principal. Seriously, I swallowed my gum and almost choked and died on the spot. Since then, I've never chewed gum in a board meeting (and besides, that was just tacky of me to try to sneak that contraband inside a school building).
As an assistant principal, I spent many hours counseling with the students trying to encourage good behavior. I spent many hours counseling with parents, too. Basically, trying to encourage good behavior (you know, good parenting skills - not that I am the master but it does stand to reason if Lil' Johnny gets in trouble at school, it isn't a good idea to beat him with a belt until purple welts show up). And I counseled with the teachers. Again, trying to encourage good behavior.
One part of me knew that adults could be so needy. I have been in enough relationships to teach me that. But teachers are professionals. They aren't supposed to be needy. Yet, they are human and therefore, they aren't really like the teachers in the movies that replay in my mind (and have I ever told you how much I LOVE the teacher in Little House on the Prairie - you know, when Laura and Mary were little).
This is my third year as the principal. The needs of students, parents and teachers can overwhelm me. And during these current challenging times, people are experiencing more and more stress. And the cracks are beginning to show. Sometimes, I want to run away rather than tell the teachers about one more mandate or one more change that has to be made. They are giving it all they've got. Teaching has consumed them. The more time they dedicate, the less their nose is above water. It is a cruel cycle.
Then add in the parents who can't be pleased, cancer scares, children who are beaten, lack of personal money, family issues, cancer realities, shortage of instructional money, kids moving in and out and back in, parents who can't be found, unrealistic standards for kids who can't even speak English, PTO meetings (again), children who are starving, a newspaper who has a deep seeded hate for all things education, parents who think that because they were once students they could be teachers, female issues, lack of time to go to the doctor much less exercise, and on and on and on.
But I try my best to counsel them through it all.
And have I said lately how much I LOVE wine. And beer. And my new favorite drink, the Georgia Peach (try it! - vodka, peach schnapps, OJ, and cranberry juice). If only I could stay awake long enough to drink it.
Yesterday, I found out that my school is losing four teaching positions. Thankfully, no one is losing their job. But four teachers will have to be relocated within the system.
So, I emailed the faculty to announce a brief faculty meeting scheduled for this afternoon. Already, I can feel the hysteria settling in. People don't like change. Unless they order the change. And this change hasn't been ordered.
Fortunately, I'm trying to be ready with my counseling hat. And the tissues.