Head of Special Education Answers My Questions
This interview is with Ms Freeman, who is Head of Special Education at a High School in Georgia. She came across as a lovely woman who is really passionate about what she does and loves the children she helps every day. Please note that both she and I are both african americans.
In the hour that I spent interviewing her, I felt I learned so much and I hope that you can benefit from it too!
Lydia: Thank you so much for allowing me to come and ask you questions about Special Education at this great school.
Mrs. Freeman: You are welcome.
Lydia: Let me introduce myself. I am a Masters of Arts in Teaching student at University and part of my course requires me to interview someone who works or has worked with Special Education children on a regular basis.
Mrs. Freeman: I see.
Lydia: So how long have you been working in this field?
Mrs. Freeman: I started out as a special education teacher twenty-nine years ago when people with almost any form of disability were locked away in Milledgeville. Thank goodness things have changed now and there is much more inclusion.
Lydia: What is your role now?
Mrs. Freeman: I am no longer in the classroom and much of my role is more to do with consulting with special education teachers who have children with special needs in their classroom, dealing with parents on a regular basis, obtaining the resources necessary to make the accommodations and modifications that are required for our special needs children to function as effectively as possible.
Lydia: Accommodations and modifications? What’s the difference?
Mrs. Freeman: Accommodations are made for children in the inclusion classes to make sure that they are on as equal a footing as possible with their colleagues. This may include increasing the amount of time on a test, breaking down a fifty question quiz into five questions at a time, etc. Modifications, on the other hand are functional children and modifications may include this (she pointed to a little box). This is a computerized magnifying glass for one of our visually impaired girls. All she has to do is move the mouse over the writing and it will appear much larger on this little screen. Both accomodations and modifications make sure that whatever is needed for the child to succeed, the special education department provides.
Lydia: How much does that fancy piece of technology cost?
Mrs. Freeman: About three thousand dollars
Lydia: Wow!!! And the school system pays for that?
Mrs. Freeman: Yes the school system pays for everything in the ILP (Individual Learning Plan). The only time that the school system will not pay for something is if the parent wants something elsewhere that the system can provide here.
Lydia: Can you give me an example?
Mrs. Freeman: Yes, for example, if a parent wants their child to go to a school in Atlanta and we can provide all the services that the school in Atlanta provides, the school system will not pay for that.
Lydia: I see. What about if a special needs child is expelled. What happens then?
Mrs. Freeman: Well, the expulsion of a special education/needs child is a very difficult task. In most cases we might recommended a shorter day or something similar to avoid the disruption that the child may bring to the class. However if we do expel a child, the school system still has to ensure that that child is educated. If it means classes at home, we will do that - whatever the ILP says.
Lydia: And how long can the special education/needs child be in the school system?
Mrs. Freeman: Until their twenty-second birthday
Lydia: That is very interesting. Now what percentage of the school population has special needs?
Mrs. Freeman: Here, the number stands at fifteen percent.
Lydia: That’s sounds rather high
Mrs. Freeman: Well, two years ago it was twenty-three percent (23%), last year it was about just above nineteen percent (19%) and now we are down to fifteen percent (15%).
Lydia: How did you achieve that reduction in so short a time?
Mrs. Freeman: We began to check to see if all those who had been classified one way or another were still in need of our services.
Lydia: And what did you find?
Mrs. Freeman: It was interesting really. While most of the children were still in need of our services, we did find that some parents (and children) took comfort in the fact that their underperforming children had the title of “special education needs” and used it as a crutch. These were some of the ones who we took through the process of being removed, while some of them opted to be removed because they felt they didn’t need us. It all depended on the individual case.
Lydia: Of the fifteen percent of the school population, how does that break down in terms of race?
Mrs. Freeman: I am not sure of the numbers, but I am certain that there are more african children among that population than anyone else.
Lydia: Why do you think that is the case?
Mrs. Freeman: As I mentioned earlier, I have been doing this for a very long time. And I have often taught the parents of the children that now walk through the halls. A good portion of the reason may therefore be hereditary. On the other hand, I often feel as though African Americans need to place a greater emphasis on the importance of education - and more specifically, reading.
So if you and I were to put our heads together to cure the problems of Special Education in the African American community, what would we need to do?
Mrs. Freeman: A lot of things. Some may include
• Motivating parents to meetings to ensure that they are more aware of what is going on with their children in school.
• Reading to children from birth and upwards on a daily basis. Reading to children creates a love for reading and in some cases reduces the chance of special education needs in the future. Remember, the brain is a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes
• Making parents aware of the many sources for free children’s books that are widely available - whether your child child needs help from the special education department or not!
• Encourage everyday activities that would teach the children life skills, exploratory abilities, etc. For example instead of telling a child not to touch anything at the grocery store, allow them to be a part of the shopping process - have them get the items from off the shelves and put them into the cart.
This may be a start in activating the brain at an earlier level among the African American community - rather than waiting until Pre-k or letting the child grow up in front of the TV.
Lydia: What has been your worst experience with special needs children?
Mrs. Freeman: That’s a good question. It might have been with an EBD boy who got totally set off by (what seemed to be) a very small comment. Anyway he ended up throwing furniture across the room, injuring other students injuring himself and so much more. He ended up being referred to psycho-ed.
Lydia: And what has been your best experience?
Mrs. Freeman: That happens a lot more often in many forms. It is usually seeing a child who had been written off; being able to graduate from high school. Or it could be a child who couldn’t read being able to read almost perfectly because they have larger printed books, etc. My best experiences come by just being able to make a positive impact on the lives of these children by providing them with the support that they need to make effective learning happen.
Lydia: What is your biggest hindrance in working with special needs students?
Mrs. Freeman: LACK OF PARENTAL PARTICIPATION, without a doubt. If the parents participated fully in the education of their children, many of the problems that we see today would never have developed into problems.
Lydia: So do you think the inclusion model works? If so what are the pros and cons?
Mrs. Freeman: It definitely works. It certainly has it’s pros and cons. For example it boosts the self esteem, encourages many more of them to achieve the GED and it gives the special education child a better idea of what normal is. This is something that they did not get to see when they were in the resource classes.
On the other hand, the normal setting classes are often too fast paced for the special needs children - even with additional help. This may often result in children being held back who would have passed in the slower paced resource classrooms. In addition, the children may be exposed to (and often set) unrealistic goals for themselves.
Lydia: What will be your advice to a new teacher?
Mrs. Freeman: Always (as best is humanly possible) watch all your students all the time. Someone may be in there who has slipped through the cracks and who is just not learning as much as they should because they do not have the (sometimes simple) resources that they need to improve the quality of their learning experience.
Lydia: Thank you so much for your time. You are an awesome resource of information.
Mrs. Freeman: You are welcome. Thank you for coming
Your Child May Be Smart in Other Ways......
Special Education: A Breakdown of Learning Disabilities
Special Education - What is It? A Breakdown of What the System Has to Offer.