An NZ teacher writes:
I’m having a remembrance day.
I remember sitting on a couch with a boy who was around six. He was drawing a purple cat under a turquoise scribbly sky. He had dark hair and deep brown eyes. His teacher was across the room from us. Not too far. She said- so very vehemently – “I don’t want him in my class” and pointed at the boy next to me. He lifted his head. Looked at his teacher. Looked at me. I was reeling in shock at the outright rejection I’d just heard so he probably noticed that the smile I gave him – that was meant to be reassuring – was quite wonky.
I remember standing in a long and narrow “resource room” of a secondary school with the head of the English department and a curly haired, hugely built, usually tall but at that moment curve shouldered and stooped teenager. The same teenager that had written me a naïve but still detailed with understanding sympathy card when he had found out my father had died. The HOD was rifling through a grey filing cabinet, outlining all the ways the teenager was failing. She gave me his behavioural contract (lots of red marks and red pen comments from an assortment of teachers.) She gave me unfinished assignments. I recognised the student’s penciled printing and could easily imagine him writing every letter sooooo carefully. She gave me pristine textbooks with relevant pages marked and “The Diary of Anne Frank” which she wanted the teenager to summarise. She kept saying “He needs to take responsibility for this poor performance” and she gave me a deadline for when everything she was shoving my way was due in for him. I was feeling like I’d just been tackled by someone not unlike Jonah Lomu, so the teenager probably noticed the wobble of my voice as I faux merrily said “Do you want to grab all that stuff, mate……my bag is full of lollies and booze……”
I remember walking with a child from my class after school. A colleague came up to me. Very upset. Telling me very loudly in front of the child from my class that one of my other students shouldn’t be allowed at our school. She could see how this child “just didn’t belong with us”. She had seen how this child behaved. She had told the mother of this offensive student that her daughter shouldn’t be here. She was on the way to tell the principal that the child needed to go. I looked at the student from my class. She looked at me questioningly. Then looked down at the ground. So she missed my fake wink – again supposed to reassure that at least one of the adults on the scene wasn’t going to go nuclear.
All these young people I was so, so privileged to work with and have in my life for a while had special needs. And they were all treated so badly.
In my time in special education – and mainstream – I have heard and seen monstrously unfair things. Things so cruel they made me revert to the question children ask of each other when they can’t believe an injustice they’ve just been dealt. “Why are you being so mean?”
I’m a full grown adult – yeah, all altruistic and “overly emotive” (actual quote) – but I still ask “Why are they being so bloody mean?”
As an adult I know – The teacher who didn’t want the child with ADHD and Autism in her class was getting no ongoing support or understanding from her management team.
The HOD had no understanding of the teenager’s diagnosis. She had no idea what to do with him. She was hyper aware of the judgment that was being flung her way over the failing mark in her departmental bell curve of achievement that the teenager represented.
The colleague that was railing at me was also ignorant. And scared. And angry about something that probably wasn’t even to do with me or my student. I can’t rightly say what her exact issue was.
What I can say is that when I first saw and heard these monstrous things and felt like I’d been punched in the solar plexus, a part of me thought “I’ll probably get used to this.”
Yesterday – for reasons long and complicated – a person who has also been in special education for a long time walked into my mainstream classroom. I was relieved to see her. From the moment she started talking I realized how long I’d been worrying for, fighting for and trying to protect this particular student and her parents from “the mean people.”
It was like seeing the cavalry coming.
I can’t describe the relief.
It was only yesterday I figured out that as an “overtly emotive” person I’m never going to get over the shock of people willfully and fearfully misunderstanding others and trying to punish them and isolate them instead of trying to address their own ignorance.
It ALWAYS sucks when people are treated this way , and I will always, always remember it.
~ Secret Teacher NZ
Educators are joining with disabled people, families and service providers to rally at Parliament tomorrow, Thursday 22 September, to let Government know that their Special Education Update is totally inadequate and it is time to invest in inclusion.
“NZEI is concerned that the Special Education Grant (SEG) paid to schools through operational grant funding is failing to keep up with wage inflation and roll growth,” said Louise Green NZEI Te Riu Roa President.
“Between 2009 and 2016, the SEG fell by 1.8% when labour cost increases are taken into account, according to information released to Education Aotearoa under the OIA.
“In the same period, school rolls have risen from 760,859 students to 776,816 and the identification of students with special education need has increased dramatically. So there really needs to be much more funding going into SEG than the Government is current providing to ensure the value of the funding per student increases.
“The SEG is mainly spent on teacher aides to help meet students’ special education needs. The inadequate levels of funding puts real pressure on a school’s ability to provide the best education possible for all their students.
“Any parent or teacher of a special needs child can tell you that the level of learning support funded through the Ministry of Education is inadequate, and in many cases non-existent.
“The recent Special Education Update proposal to shift resources to pre-schoolers, without putting any additional funding into the system won’t work in the best interests of all children who need the support. They need more funding.
“We strongly support greater investment in early intervention, but that should not come at the expense of those who need support when they are older. Funding should be based on the need for intervention and support, not age,” said Louise Green.
Education for All Rally
Where: Parliament forecourt
When: Tomorrow, Thursday 22 September 4.30-5.30pm
Organised by Education for All, a collaboration involving the disability and education sectors, including NZEI Te Riu Roa
There are few things as a teacher that I find more upsetting than hearing from a distressed parent whose child is being let down by the system because it cannot meet their special educational needs (SEN). And then to hear the system let her down too, for the same reason, well that’s a double horror.
If we are going to do inclusion (and I absolutely think we must) then it has to be done properly, with support and training and understanding and compassion. And there must be room for teachers to adapt to the child’s needs and not push them in ways that are not developmentally appropriate.
Having a system where children are deemed naughty far too often simply because the system expects them to fit in no matter what, when in fact we should be adapting to the needs of the child – well that is madness.
A system that prioritises benchmarks over individual growth? Madness.
Having a system where there are very few teacher aides and even fewer *trained* teacher aides is abysmal. And we lose good TAs every year due to the terrible way they are employed, due to appalling funding systems. This is also madness.
A system where teachers are crying out for training and support with Special Educational Needs but little to none is given and where professional development has been prioritised as STEM (science, tech, engineering and maths) for the coming few years by government, meaning we are bang out of luck for SEN PD…? Totally bloody madness.
How many of our underachieving students have special educational needs that are not met?
How many of our SEN students end up home schooled because the system is causing them more harm than good?
How many teachers leave the job because they cannot cope with SEN students without support and there is none?
How many distressed people does it take before real, huge, positive changes are made?
The select committee looking at improving SEN provision have an unenviable task on their hands. The job is huge. Massive shifts are needed, both in the system and political ideology, to get this even vaguely moving in the right direction. It will need bold action. Let’s hope the kids are put first in their considerations and that bold action is indeed taken.
Dire SEN provision is one huge mistake we really must learn from.
You say that “[e]very child is unique and teachers and other parents don’t always understand that or get it right.” And yet when teachers are crying out for money to be spent on training and on good provisions for special needs students they are ignored. When the government want to spend money on change principals and lead teachers via the IES proposal and teachers shout out that they don’t want bonuses but in-class support and training, the Minister says we are whining.
So, when teachers don’t get it right, bear in mind, Mr Hughes, that you and your Ministry are part of that problem. .
You say that “When things aren’t working [the Ministry of Education] will own that and work with everyone involved to find solutions.” Really? Because parents and educators instead talk of huge waiting lists to get help, paperwork mountains no money available, and children having their funding removed whenever a slight improvement is seen, only for they to slip back when the support is removed.
You throw in that $530 Million is spent yearly on Special Needs, but so what? How much is spent dealing with children who haven’t had good support? Maybe paying for health problems brought on by the stress of fighting the system for every little thing? Paid out in years to come to those students who weren’t given the best chance and are not unemployed? What is spent is a mask for what it costs to *not*get it right, and to throw it in as if it proves how hard Ministry is trying is an insult.
And it hardly helps when the Minister cares so little for special needs provision that she is happy to close special needs residential schools – sometimes illegally.
Let’s face it, Mr Hughes, you do not just have work to do – you have a complete overhaul to do, after years of neglect of special needs provision. And this neglect is to the detriment of all of our students and is a disgrace.
Start by looking at the lack of good professional development out there for teachers and teacher aides.
Try investigating at the minuscule bit of teacher training that is spent learning about special needs.
Look at the detrimental effect of National Standards on both students and teachers.
Ask parents and teachers how hard it is to get help even for the kids with severe learning disabilities.
Then tell me again you just “have work to do.”
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