Should I be teaching? For me, the answer is yes. But I long to teach in a collaborative environment where the content specific and Special Education teacher actually plan lessons together and teach so seamlessly that it’s hard to identify which teacher is which.
I’m a first year teacher, or really a first year teaching resident and for the first time ever I doubted whether I really want to teach. I came into the school year “unstoppable”, nothing would stop me from my goal of becoming a teacher and teaching for years and years but that all stopped momentarily this week. I work in Special Education, but working in Special Education was nothing like what I imagined it to be. The “norms” set for me as a teacher were so contradictory to my desires and aspirations.
Let me paint a teacher. You step into a ninth-grade classroom, my “focus” class. My focus class is essentially the one class I take on as my own. You see two adults, one in the front teaching the lesson, one at a table who you would almost mistake for a student if they weren’t so much older, all alongside a class of 30 something students. I am that adult sitting on the side who sometimes really doesn’t know what lesson is going to be taught until I walk into the classroom. I feel uncomfortable with the content I’m teaching and always have to “catch up”.
But somehow I was content with this. I thought, “It’s only one year. Special Education looks different elsewhere.” I was reminded of my friends teaching a particular subject and truly being seen as equals to their fellow teacher in the classroom. But then I was reminded that in most settings, Special Education is exactly what I’m doing and how scarce jobs are for the type of job I want.
Don’t get me wrong- there is still good in this model. I look at my mentor teacher and feel astonished by his ability to master all 4 subjects to such a degree that he often teaches it better than the content teacher because of his ability to break down difficult concepts for Special Education students. But it’s difficult for me to accept a career where by default I essentially become a helper in the room instead of an educator. I am unwilling to stay in a position that does not leverage my strengths and abilities. I want to be challenged every day in my job.
My focus may be wrong. In my position, I still influence my students heavily. I learn every day and my life is filled with stories about my students. Interning in business never left me as satisfied. But despite my love for my students, I still want more. There are plenty of other jobs that would require me to work with students one on one or in small groups. But I chose to teach because I want to plan lessons and units that engage my students. I long to challenge traditional curriculum and try out different ways to engage all types of learners in my class.
When met with the reality that I may always feel “one-step” behind in the classroom, I want to stop teaching. I can acknowledge the fact that I will get the same pay as content specific teachers with a smaller workload but I didn’t leave a possible career in Business behind to do less work. At my core, my real passion is to help others reach their potential. And I always think back to those teachers that changed my view of education.