There was no way I was qualified to take over the position of Bilingual Resource Room teacher. I had no training in special education. None.
However, I was sick of my incompetent ESL supervisor, Mrs. P., and so when my principal, Mrs. R, had a falling out with the Resource Room teacher, Mrs. A, and offered me the position, I accepted, albeit with many reservations.
I spoke Spanish well, but was unfamiliar with the strategies and materials used for “scaffolding”—elevating students with special needs to grade level competence in math and reading. Fortunately I had an outstanding supervisor, Mr. Ricardo M—who told me to call him Ricardo and insisted I call him at his home in New Rochelle every night—collect, to tell him how I was doing and to ask him any questions I needed to ask.
I always could count on the understanding and support of my principal, who did whatever she could to help with my new job.
I received help and support from the former RR teacher, Mrs. A, who liked me even if she didn’t like the principal; my colleagues who were the classroom teachers of the children I served; and the directors of math and reading programs in our school, Helen and Ruth, who provided me with materials and spent their prep periods (and my own) suggesting strategies for best using these materials.
I was far from being an excellent RR teacher, but thanks to the support I received, I wasn’t useless and may have actually helped the children I served.
Unfortunately I found myself encumbered by an obstacle more formidable, more intimidating than my inexperience: the IEP.
IEPs, Individualized Educational Programs, had to be prepared twice a year for each of the twenty-five students I serviced. In the pre-computer period when I was RR teacher, this was an enormous amount of paper work. Each IEP was between 15 and 20 pages.
Assessment tests had to be administered and corrected. Conferences had to be arranged with parents, guidance counselor, social workers, my supervisor, and classroom teachers all present.
While IEPs were being prepared, all classes were suspended. I only saw my students when I needed to administer tests.
My supervisor continued to be supportive; however, as he had more than a dozen other special education teachers to monitor, I tried to avoid overburdening him with too many questions.
Arranging and attending meetings required an unbelievable amount of time and work. It quickly became apparent that despite legal requirements to the contrary, it would be impossible to bring together all the required attendees in one meeting; therefore, there were often four or five separate meetings for each child: one with the parents; another with the classroom teacher; another with my supervisor; another with the social worker; and still another with the guidance counselor.
Guidance counselors and social workers served several different schools thus making meetings more difficult to arrange. Often our “meetings” were phone calls. When our paths crossed, I would obtain the required signatures for the IEPs.
Many parents worked, so I had to meet with them very early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or during my lunch hour. In reality, I no longer had lunch hours or preps—preparation time. All my time was spent arranging, attending, or reporting on meetings, and doing the incredible amount of paperwork that was legally required by the state.
My warm relationships with my principal and my supervisor, and my affection for my students made my job more stressful, rather than less stressful. I desperately sought to avoid disappointing the people I worked for or neglecting the children I was supposed to be seeing on a regular basis. My waking nightmare was that I’d be relieved of my duties for ineptitude, my principal would be humiliated and would be chastised for giving the job to an incompetent, and my supervisor would be stuck with the task of finishing all the IEPs that I hadn’t completed.
The stacks of IEPs on my desks at home and in school began to remind me of the stacks of cardboard I had piled onto pallets at Budmar. They seemed interminable. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I developed a persistent cough. I feared I would wind up at the Magic Mountain.
Most maddening was the requirement of drawing up short- term and long-term goals. These goals had to be expressed quantitatively. I remember asking Ricardo what the hell I was I supposed to write up as a short-term reading goal. How could I decide by what percentage a child’s reading comprehension would improve?
Ricardo told me not to worry about it, to just put down any reasonable percentage to satisfy the bureaucrats’ desire for numbers. So I would dutifully write goals like “Douglas’s reading comprehension will improve by 85%” and worry if failure to realize the goal would lead to my incarceration for perjury or fraud.
I managed to get through the IEPs, but wasn’t able to do much teaching for about six weeks. I decided that I needed to get better at this job fast if I were to survive and fulfill my obligation to my superiors, my school, and to the children, so I enrolled in the prestigious Bank Street College to take courses in bilingual special education.
The courses were very good, but very demanding in the time and effort they required. I took about eight courses at Bank Street resulting in debts of over $10,000. For two summers, I gave up my eight weeks of vacation so I could take courses. I became a little better as a teacher and a little quicker at doing IEPs — but still hated the damned things.
For all my effort, I had attained a level of competence slightly above mediocrity. But I was improving.
However, after my first two years as a Resource Room teacher, some geniuses in the Department of Special Education decided that the number of Resource Room students per class should be expanded to eight. That meant 40 IEPs instead of 25.
I requested that I be taken out of the Resource Room and be given a regular class. My request was honored the following semester.