On grasshoppers

The grasshoppers have come again.

For the past four years, a major part of my working life has been sharing it with other people–serving, formally or informally, as a mentor to other special education teachers.  I honestly don’t remember when I first started to think of this in Kung Fu terms, but over time, I’ve become quite fond of my work with my “grasshoppers”.

It’s awesome.  It’s terrifying.

I remember my own first years in the field, and the wise, helpful mentors who kept me from losing it.  I looked up to them like a kid looks up to the moon; I admired their skills, their patience, their unflappable calm.  They taught me to push INTO where a kid bites you to trigger jaw release, they walked me through Boardmaker and helped me write my first goals.   It amazes me to think that I can be that for a new person: it baffles me to imagine that I might now know that much.

Of course, the bar for mentorship is set rather low when it comes to special education, a field with an unfortunate predilection for eating its own young.  Teacher attrition in special education is notoriously greater than for general education; in 1998, a study was released showing that 13.4% of special education teachers left the field every year.   You know that old saw that nearly half of all new teaching hires leave within five years?  It’s true, and it gets worse.  A friend of mine is beginning her fourth year in our district’s 10-teacher mental health program (serving kids with emotional and behavioral disorders.)  She has outlasted everyone else.  Last year, they offered to make her the principal of a day treatment facility, because no-one existed who had more experience and no one with actual administrative training would do it.

This is the context that faces my grasshoppers–these are the odds I’ve overcome to still be here.

Ms. G. starts on Wednesday: wish us both luck!

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