A Day in the Life of a Special Educator
Burn-Out: A Day in the Life of a Special Educator with Auto-Immune Disease
I am officially in burn out mode. It typically doesn’t last too long, fortunately. We only have 38.5 more days until summer break and everyone is feeling the tension. My day starts early. I rise and shine at 6 a.m. and see my 10 year old off to school. It’s her last year in elementary school and I sadly haven’t spent enough time volunteering or participating in her school events. Once she is on her way, I head to my school where I am required to be “on the floor” at 7:20 a.m. to monitor students in the hall. My students with special needs come to me daily for breakfast. So, fortunately, I don’t have to stand in the hall and remind kids to “tuck in your shirt, ties your shoes, please walk on the right side of the hall, please use a quiet voice, walking feet, hands to yourself…. the list goes on” and by 8 a.m. (after students are settled in their rooms) most of the staff members are already worn out! I have the pleasure of retreating to my room with 8 of my students to listen to Pandora (music such as The Memory of Trees, by the Taliesin Orchestra). Students bring their breakfast to my room and sit together and chat while eating. I recently started providing them with an opportunity to access the NC Standard Course of Study in my room. Because the time that students come to me in the morning is technically not “IEP” (Individualized Educational Plan) instruction, I am able to provide cross curriculum. We’ve been learning about bees, honey and hives, butterflies, whale sharks, the moon phases and soon will be learning about Earth Day and trees! It thrills me to be able to provide learning opportunities for general curriculum in my special education resource room and they are mighty happy to be experiencing the thrill of learning about topics that are highly engaging!
After breakfast students clean up and we prepare for a program called “Tuned Into Learning”. I was a music major my first two years at Salem College and I often think about what it would be like now if I had completed my music degree and become a music teacher. Nevertheless, I am able to implement music, movement, and dance into my daily instruction using this fabulous research-based program that provides my students with social skills which specifically target their deficits. We sing, dance, and talk about appropriate behaviors. Some of my students who were in kindergarten last year were not speaking in full sentences, displayed significant delays in development and academic readiness and are now flourishing! I can’t get them to stop talking!
My day is filled with specialized instruction, supporting students who need to be removed from the general education class to “cool off” in my Calm Zone. I have a beanbag, a bear named Freddie and an Owl named Mama Owl (bought during my spring break trip with my daughter on a jaunt to Grandfather Mountain- just too lovely and sweet to pass up!), along with the animals, there is an i-pad, rainbow-colored rugs, and loads of photos of my students demonstrating calm body posture, YOGA moves, mindfulness, and happiness. Prompts and visual cues on the wall encourage the students to BREATHE, relax, and start over. Students are reminded that their day may start over at ANY time.
My school day ends reviewing daily behavioral charts, reflecting on areas of improvement and rewarding those who achieved their daily goals. I provide transitional escort support for several students during dismissal and meet with their parents to let mom or dad know how their day went.
On Tuesday and Thursday I teach students from the general education population in our after-school program that is funded by a government program. I work with 3 other teachers and support about 15 students in grades 3-5. Monday- Friday I work from 6-10 at an agency that facilitates grading standardized tests from all over the country. I get home around 10:30 and fall into bed… only to rise and shine again the next morning and do it all over again.
I love my job. I love the students I teach and learn from. But I long for summer break. It’s that time of year where everyone is tired, emotional, stressed, keyed up, on edge. Some days I simply work on mindfulness and calming strategies with the students to maintain sanity for us all. I don’t know how much longer I will teach. Perhaps I will retire as a special education teacher- maybe not. Perhaps I will be accepted into a doctoral program and complete my Ed.D or take the LSAT and become a Special Education attorney. I don’t know…right now I am working on completing my National Board Certification, which will take three years. I seem to be a glutton for punishment or a restless soul, searching for knowledge.. the eternal student.
The weariness caught up with me today. I need a self-care day and plan to take off tomorrow to rest and recuperate. I feel very guilty about taking sick days. It’s depressing and many people don’t understand. Plus, it leaves the students with a sub who might be less understanding then I. I believe people don’t understand my condition because they are primarily invisible diseases. However, this week I have a very visible rash on my face which is circling my eyes...with bright red, patches and significant pain. I also have a new walking gait. As I walk I limp. I struggle with the pain in both legs, hips, lower back, neck, arms, and my knees. I feel like an 80 year old woman with the humor and mental mind-set of a 25 year old! Because I have been diagnosed with two different auto-immune disorders (Crohns Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis) I move much slower and need more rest. Perhaps this is my body telling me that after all the years of being Speedy Gonzales, it’s simply time to slow down and be more mindful- just as I teach my students to be be more mindful.
Blessings abound….I love my job, my students, have a wonderful family and amazing support group of friends. I have begun a new life living at the beach where I can take time to sit, meditate, and reflect on “life”… and fish… fishing is my new hobby and tomorrow is another day in the life….of me.