Sunday, March 16, 2008


Webcam photo, originally uploaded by MNicoleM.

The most important fact at hand: I adore my students, love them like they are my own children and want what’s best for them …

Another important fact: My stress level lately is already about an inch away from the breaking point

Problem: My classroom is not technically called an “autism” classroom – on paper it is a classroom for students with moderate intellectual disabilities (MOID). However, all of the students in my class have been diagnosed with autism. All but two are served in special education with an autism eligibility and those two are served as SDD (significant developmental delay) but will be most likely changed to an autism eligibility when their SDD label expires – for one that is this year, for another it is next year). Only two of them have IQs that fall in the “moderate” range of intellectual disabilities.
The teacher of the class (me) has her master’s degree in autism and is working on her PhD in autism. Though I am certified to teach MOID, I don’t have a degree in it, I simply took the test and passed. So technically I have the basic knowledge required to teach such a class. My passion, however, lies in working with kids who have autism.

History: When I was hired, I was hired to teach a MOID class, which I did for three years. My fourth year, we had 8 or 9 kids with autism being served in the MOID classes and I tried to convince the “powers that be” that we needed an Autism program in the county … kids with autism need different instructional strategies than those with intellectual disabilities, and they also need very structured environments and specific behavior interventions that aren’t necessary with kids who have IDs. While they wouldn’t call it an autism class or create a program, the administration did allow me to have all of the kids with autism in my class. So for three years, I thought I had somewhat won. For all intents and purposes, I teach an autism classroom. When kids transfer from other counties where they have been served in a self contained autism class, they are put in my room. At their IEP meetings, the coordinator touts me as an “excellent autism teacher”, and extols the virtues of my class and how it is geared specifically towards students with autism, etc. Basically they describe it as an autism class. But on the paperwork, where we indicate placement, I once wrote “self contained autism class” and was told I couldn’t write that, I had to just write “self contained classroom” and not be more specific. Now a child with an emotional or behavioral disorder gets placed specifically in a “self contained E/BD classroom”, a child with a severe intellectual disability gets placed in a “self contained SID classroom”, etc. But my kids get placed only in a “self contained classroom”. So *technically* they can be moved to a self contained MI class, E/BD class, MOID class, etc. and still be in compliance with their IEP. Which is bullshit, but who am I? I’m just the teacher and I have to do as I’m told. It hasn’t been a problem because they’ve been in my class so I’ve just done it.

Now to the issue I’m faced with now. My class is full – I have 12 kids which is way too many. The MOID (the “other” MOID) class is full with 11 kids. So we are getting another MOID teacher. And the “powers that be” have decided that we will divide the three classes up by grade (k-1, 2-3 and 4-5) which seems like it makes sense. However, now the kids with autism are going back into true MOID classrooms. Which first of all, I have several students in my class who have MI or SI IQs and should therefore be placed in a MI or SI class if they aren’t allowed to be in a specific AU program. Like I said before, only two of them have MO IQs. And second of all, the way a MOID classroom is structured and the methods used to teach kids with MOID are NOT appropriate or successful in general with kids who have Autism.

Let me clarify ... there are many many many kids with milder forms of Autism who are perfectly well served in general education classrooms, resource rooms or classrooms for children with mild disabilities - even some that do well in MOID classes. And obviously a lot of it depends on the teacher, too. However, most of the kids in my class have already been *tried* in other classrooms and were eventually placed (in other counties or states) in a self contained autism classroom because their IEP teams decided that they needed the specific structure, instructional strategies, etc. that can only be effectively implemented in a class specifically for kids with autism. And I *know* these kids very well ... and I feel like I know what's best for them, and while I'm not saying they should all stay in MY class (I totally agree that my class is too huge and should be split), I wholeheartedly believe that they need to be in a class specifically geared towards autism in order to achieve their full potential. And on that note, I also know that IDEA (the federal law) requires that we offer only an "appropriate" education, not the "best" education ... and though I disagree with that concept, anyway, I honestly don't think it's appropriate at all for most of these kids to be put in an MOID classroom.

I realize that my class is technically called an MO class but most of the parents were led to believe their children were being placed in an autism class. At the IEP meetings for the kids who transferred from other counties in which they were served in an autism-specific classroom and at their transfer IEP meetings, no one informed them that their placement was being changed – I was touted as a “great autism teacher” and the classroom was described as an autism classroom even though the paperwork designated only a “self contained classroom”. Same for the ones coming up from pre-k, they were led to believe their child was being placed in an autism classroom. As for the kids who were in MOID classes and then moved to my class when I begged, they have made VERY significant improvements since being in the autism classroom that’s not called an autism classroom but really is an autism classroom. One is talking and wasn’t before – two have made extreme improvements in their behavior that everyone has commented on and expressed amazement at.

We have specific E/BD program for kids with emotional and behavior disorders because we, as a county, recognize that they need specialized services and instructional strategies as well as behavior programs that aren’t appropriate for other students and therefore must be administered in a self contained E/BD classroom when their needs can’t be met in a general education classroom. For kids with moderate to severe behavior disorders, we never try to place them in a moderate or severe ID classroom, because we know that’s not where they need to be served.

I realize I’m rambling, but I am really torn here. I have been told flat out that the decision has been made. There will be no autism program in the county, the kids will be put into MOID classrooms and I will teach one of those classrooms. I am certified to teach a MOID class but don’t have anything other than a basic knowledge of strategies and methods to do so. I don’t *want* to teach a MOID class, I want to teach kids with Autism. That’s what I’m good at … that’s what I’ve studied … that’s what I love. So my quandary … do I stay where I am, keep fighting to get an autism program, stress myself out even the administration to do what I know is best … but seriously risk the chance of the stress killing me, either figuratively or perhaps even literally … or do I abandon these kids that I love so much and go to a neighboring county that already has an autism program, teach and do what I know I’m good at and help other kids that I don’t know yet but will certainly fall just as much in love with. And feel guilty and selfish for leaving the 12 in my class right now to be screwed by a county who doesn’t understand what they need. And leave their parents to fight the fight … when many of the parents are single parents who have neither the time nor the resources to do so. And what about the two families who MOVED across the state specifically to come to our county to have their child put in my class? How can I just leave them?

So … if anyone has ANY advice, I’m open to it!! This is truly a heart-wrenching decision that I have to make and I don’t want to!!!!

I am going to continue to try to talk to the special education director about it, but I’m pretty much convinced that it’s not going to happen, certainly not before the fall. I feel like everything I worked so hard three and four years ago has just been completely undone. And I don’t know if I can watch these kids in a classroom across the hall knowing I could be helping them but am not being allowed to … ya know?


Pook said...

You have to go with your heart, Sweetie. If Autism is where your heart lies, that's your answer. I know you love the kids, and they, along with your Mom and yourself, would hate to see you go. But from what you've said, staying and fighting is only going to stress you out, and it appears to be a losing battle. You aren't taking the easy road by leaving, you're offering your expertise to kids that otherwise might not receive it.

Unfortunately, unless the parents get together and fight for the program, and get the Politicians involved, it might never happen. Then you're stressed, they are stressed, and no one is any better off.

I totally understand your struggle - and in the end the decision is up to you. You have to do what is best for you, and the kids, in the long run. I wish you the best no matter what your decision. *Love & Hugs*

Anonymous said...

Wow Nicole ! I am so sorry ! I do not have a degree of any kind. Tho I do work as a substitute educational assistant and sometimes in our "SPED" classroom. I am always surprised on how it is more politics than anything else. Politics first children second in most cases. The stress of your decision has to be killing you. I am sorry to not have any advice at all for you, but I wanted to let you know I hear ya ! And will listen when you need to vent. You will make the right choice, I am sure of it.
Take care, your flickr friend,

Anonymous said...

Oh Man Coco. You are in one heck of a pickle. It seems to me, no matter what you do you will be wondering if it was the right thing to do. I know you asked for help in making up your mind but the fact is, unless one is you or somehow in the exact same situation as you with regard to work, education, family, health and everything, no one could make this decision for you. The fact is, those parents would have to petition the school board and in fact the govornment to impliment the changes you've asked for. It's time for the school to fess up for missleading those parents. Maybe you are what they say you are but on paper, you're not and that means they should never have said that. It makes everyone involved look like liars. You can't make the parents fight a battle, certainly if they are oblivious to what's going on. They should know you do not have an autism class and that if they want one they will have to take action so, presented with the facts, they can choose whether to take action or not. The question is whether or not it's your place to tell them the truth and what they should do about it. There is certainly no easy answer. Somehow there never seems to be an easy answer ... yuck! I'm not you but I think that if I should be in the same position as you, I could not stand to see the kids I worked so hard with, the get them where they are, taken away and tought by someone else (who's probably perfectly wonderful)in a way that is not quite right for the children would kill me. It would be daily mental torture to watch that and I would have to go. I would write a sincere letter about the situation to the administration, another to the school board/ school district, and a far more personal one to the parents explaining why it was time for me to go and I would just do it, as soon as I could. I would feel sure the best way to serve my students is to be exactly the kind of teacher I knew I should be (clearly you know exactly what kind of a teacher you should be). As an autism Teacher you would be in a better position to fight for autism classrooms anyway. The biggest problem is there's no quick fix for the students you have now. Feel confident that if you do what your heart tells you must be done it will be the right thing to do, whatever you choose to do. No matter what you decide to do, I'm here for you, as a parent of a student with an autism spectrum disorder in a self contained classroom, and as your favorite big sister.
I love you hun!

jackie said...

Hi Nicole! So sorry to hear that you are having to deal with something like this. It always amazes me how politics can get in the way of what's best for the children, and it's just not fair.
I'd like to echo everything that's been said so far - I definitely agree. My two cents: If I were in this position (and who knows, it might happen sometime!), it would seem to me that I would first try to change things myself and if I were shot down, try and get the parents involved. You mentioned that some of your kids' parents were single and might not be able to spare the time, but all it takes is one parent to be pissed off and willing to fight for change. They can hire an advocate or petition, as someone has mentioned. And maybe they won't create an "autism classroom" per-say, but maybe you can get the district to compromise somehow. Maybe it might be in training the 2 other teachers in DI or ABA or whatever method of teaching you use. Maybe they could hire other support professionals, too. I know it's probably not exactly what you would like to see happen, but chances are that you can fight and fight and fight, and never get exactly what should be happening for these kids. Maybe it might require change in a sort of roundabout way (if that makes any sense, lol!).
Lastly, if things don't change to a point where you're comfortable with them and can go to work everyday and be happy, then I'd say, get the hell out! :) As an autism teacher (hell, any teacher!), I know how difficult it can be to separate yourself from your students and it's easier said than done, but you really need to take care of yourself first. Your health, mentally, emotionally, and physically, is so important.
Hope that all made sense and helped a little :) Hang in there! I hope it all turns out ok!
<3 your flickr friend,
jackie aka sbf_peanut

sheryl said...

I have been watching you struggle with this for a week now. I am in a precarious position because I am working at the school and district of which you have the problem. I do not like seeing you unhappy and stressed so I have told you have to follow your heart and I mean that even if it takes you to another school district. I think you should plead your case to the principal and the special ed director and if you get no favorable response there you have to do what is best for you which would be going to a district that has an autism class. If this is the case our school district will be losing a wonderful teacher that always has her students first and foremost in any plans made.

I hope that you will decide to do what is best for YOU because you do not need to have so much stress in your life.

I love you and will support you in whatever decision you make.


Jennifer said...

Hey Nicole- I have a blog too- come visit. Anyways- Everyone here has great advice. Follow your heart does seem like the best answer. Autism is your passion. Like your mom said- our county will be losing an awesome teacher. i tell people all the time about my friend that loves kids and her class so much that she devotes all her money and free time to be with them and help them. You are certainly one in a million! Jenn

Anonymous said...

nicole, i don't even know what to say. this is such a tough one! i am not a teacher but have worked with kids most of my life as a child care provider. i know how easy it is to get attached to the kids...especially when you are struggeling to have one of your own! after 3 years of caring for 3 kids that i absolutely LOVED i had to make a really, really tough decision due to some issues with the parents. i stayed around as long as i could because i KNEW the kids were being taken care of during that time...i knew i needed to go, things were getting extreamly stressful and it seemed i was in tears on my way to work, sometimes throughout the day and always on my way home! i hung in there thinking things would get better, thinking i should just be strong and stay for the kids, thinking i could talk some sense into the parents etc. but in reality it was not getting any was actually getting harder! once i was faced with the decision to leave i would actually have panick attacks because i knew for me quitting meant never being a part of these precious kids' life again! it was really emotional and i tried to stick around as long as i could but finally realized it was time for me to go. as hard as it was and as much as i wish it didn't have to be that way i really know now it was for the best - FOR ME! i understand how improtant the kids are to you and that you want what is best for them but if you are so stressed to the point is starts taking a toll on your health and your emotions then your in no position to be there for the kids! you have to take care of YOU before you can take care of anyone will get burnt out before you really get started and that is the last thing anyone wants! i agree with what everyone else has said. i see both sides but my heart and my gut (and i have A LOT of gut to judge with! lol!) feel you should find another district and teach what you know and love...what you've worked so hard for! you can't win all the battles and you can't be everyones hero! the next class will be just as blessed to have you! you have made a difference in your students lives already...there is a season for everything and maybe this season is coming to an end - which can only mean it is the start of a fresh, new season! ;o)i'm sorry you have to make such a hard decision but i trust you will make the right one! and whatever you chose to do, don't look back with regrets! make the best of the situation and know you followed your heart. either way, i support you sis! BIG HUGS!
love ya!
another sis,
p.s. God will smile! :o)