By now many of you have seen the video clip of a teacher taking the microphone from a child living with Autism. Many have condemned the teacher while others have made excuses why this might be okay. I have a few thoughts about this, but also some questions.
Who was this performance meant to benefit?
When my students put on performances, it was to make the school, classroom, or parents look and feel good. I cannot remember one time when it was for all of the kids, chosen by the kids, and a benefit to the kids. Some children love to be in public and performing while others shy away and they certainly should be allowed to do either behavior without forced to perform like trained animals.
As adorable as seeing children on stage is, it is easy for them to think you are laughing at them when you really are laughing because they did something cute. Often, public speaking is part of state educational standards which really does not allow students with varying interests and abilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment while attending to their unique needs and interests. Free choice is the key, if I am being honest. Unfortunately. teachers have very little time for this type of educational model.
What will teachers do when the number of children with Autism is greater than the number of those without?
While some children have Autism due to genetic factors, others have onset of symptoms after exposure to environmental toxins. At this point in time, both are coded as Autism. That may change in the future, but right now, to receive therapies and have them coded in a way that insurance companies will help pay for the costs, this is the reality.
As the numbers of those living with Autism climb, and make no mistake this is the prediction, how will our educational system fare? How will teachers be able to do their jobs with class sizes up to 20 in early childhood grade levels and over half of their students living with special needs? As numbers of those with Autism grow, will teachers be able to differentiate instruction, work on behavior concerns, and not burn out?
I am doubtful. In my state, all re-certifications must include ESE training classes. Because some of these classes will be taught in individual schools by those working there, we don’t actually know how much correct information or quality is going into them. I hope great care is being taken.
When I took my courses, I did so through a university. Unfortunately, they focused on coercion of students in order to make them comply even when it really was not necessary to force compliance for safety or educational purposes. The truth is that less is more. Routine, reminding of expectations before an issue occurs, and patience all help. Sometimes we have to be strict, but mostly we have to be flexible and understanding as long as safety is not an issue.
In addition, there were ESE teachers in my classes who repeatedly said terrible things about children and made generalizations about “them”. The term “animals” was thrown around and I was so appalled that I chose another university for my PHD program.
Please remember, there are some fantastic teachers who do bring poor teacher behaviors to the attention of administrators, but there are also teachers who are afraid of having a tougher work environment if they speak up. We must work to enable the positive teachers while re-educating or sending away those who are terribly behaved.
What about this child?
I would not be surprised if the teacher was tired and wanted to “put him in his place” when she snatched the microphone. She probably worked all day, had frustrations with him all day, and decided this would show him that she was in charge and to be obeyed no matter what. She was at her breaking point and has not been educated regarding 1. special needs and 2. psychologically appropriate educational techniques. Maybe this is her fault. Maybe her boss should train the employees better. Maybe her former college ought to retool their programs.
At any rate, she was wrong.
She was prideful, went on a power trip, and was wrong.
What if the other parents complain about teachers allowing ESE students to behave or learn differently?
It doesn’t matter what other parents think. IDEA says that those living with certain special needs must be accommodated.
I have seen some terrible comments on social media about how children with special needs shouldn’t get “extras”, also known as developmentally appropriate teaching practices. They blame the victim saying he had already had a turn, and maybe he did. Maybe he was working on learning about taking turns and has not yet mastered the skill. This is exactly why we have bullying. Many adults cannot handle being different from one another so they push that insecurity and hate on children who then bully each other. Thank goodness some people are working to educate those who bully others.
What should happen to the teacher?
First, I am not clear as to whether that teacher sees the child on a day to day basis or not. If so, she ought to, at the very least, be removed and replaced from that position so they do not come into contact. The child should not be moved from the classroom if she is a special area or classroom teacher. Removing the child from the classroom and putting him in another is disruptive to him and punishes him so the teacher is the one who must move.
Then, of course, the teacher must give a public apology. If she feels embarrassed, that is sad, but it is exactly how that tiny human felt so she will be okay in doing this. It is important for children to see that nobody is perfect and that we can do our best to correct mistakes. This is how children learn to be good humans, by observing our behaviors and how we adults correct ourselves. Snatching a microphone teaches the child that someone bigger can take your stuff without permission and he is more likely to do the same behavior to get his way if the teacher doesn’t apologize and then make better choices.
Next, all teachers in the district, yes in the entire district, must be educated regarding how to not take behaviors personally when they have stress due to teaching children with special needs. If you watch the video, the teacher was clearly taking something personally and on a power trip to show that kid who is in charge and who can do whatever they want.
This may be a pervasive attitude in the area or school. If your notice in the video, no adult jumps up to stop the teacher, either. I would highly encourage parent education night as well, not only for information about Autism, but also to learn about other special needs present in educational settings.
Another potential solution is to provide support. I recall needing assistance due to students, in different situations, being harmful to themselves or others. When calling for assistance, I was often told that no one was available. Sometimes help would come, sometimes not. I ended up doing most of the work of a dean myself or with the help of my next door teammate.
When stress gets to be too much or someone is being unsafe, there should be someone who can help or give the teacher a break. I often said that if I had not been trained with strategies and skills to deal with high stress situations, then I might have lost it. I can understand how teachers snap. Please note that though parent volunteers are awesome, you cannot leave the classroom with them in charge so that is not a viable option for a break due to stress.
It is important to provide skills and strategy options so that teachers and students do not feel backed into a corner. Teachers have to remember not to take student behaviors personally. The truth of the matter is that we are all different and that is okay. However, being a bully is never okay. This teacher was at the end of her rope and chose to bully. It’s time for her take a step back and try things differently. There are a great many of us who benefit from this idea, too. There’s no shame in learning new strategies and all children, whether developing typically or not, deserve patience and multiple chances to learn social skills.