“One faces the future with one’s past.” Pearl S. Buck
So much has changed in those years since we posted that blog COVID, the aftermath of COVID, and serious staffing issues in the schools, not just among paraprofessionals but among teachers and speech and language therapists, bus drivers, and even administrators.
What is happening to Special Educators?
Special education teacher recruitment was not great before COVID, but it is a more significant and enduring problem than in the past. Why?
In part, young people are not going into education for various reasons. Education generally is not appealing to young people starting their careers. It could be the pay, the hours, the challenges of school shootings, the paperwork, and, yes, the student debt. In some states, like Colorado, it is difficult to afford housing on a hoving around $2000 a month for a two-bedroom, and add the cost of student loans, insurance, and materials for teaching at their expense. So you can understand why we might have a recruitment problem.
Denver Public Schools recently raised starting teacher salaries to $50,000, and paraprofessionals’ hourly wages now start at $20 an hour.
In some states, like Colorado, it is difficult to afford housing on a hoving around $2000 a month for a two-bedroom, and add the cost of student loans, insurance, and materials for teaching at their expense. So you can understand why we might have a recruitment problem.
Basically speaking, work/life balance fatigue is daunting for many teachers in the field. However, many are tired of all the balancing efforts needed to support students during the pandemic.
The need for paraprofessionals is significant. “Paras” are the unsung heroes of special education. The everyday work and support come from good paraprofessional support. Meeting the diverse needs of students with special needs is almost impossible without them.
Where does that leave the IEP Process?
Did you ever really get what you wanted from an IEP? Is this fragile process more challenging with staffing shortages? Most likely, your answer is both yes and no. The outcome most likely depends on you, the parent of a special needs child, and the resources available to your student at their particular school.
The cadre of well-intended professionals dealing with the challenges and pressures of meeting the needs and demands of all their students are slim in the best circumstance. Our current workforce issues are complicated, and our student’s needs are more prevalent in the post-pandemic environment. So how much learning has been lost? It will take time to calculate. Don’t despair. There are still opportunities ahead.
Education, the traditional bedrock and the center of our children’s lives, is facing the same instability and change experienced by other changes in our communities and human service systems.
One more thing for you to balance, right?
Despite the chaos surrounding you, there is hope. Somewhere in an office, walking down a corridor, someone wants to be your champion, to make a difference and help. The key for you is to look beyond the obvious. Look, and you can find them by their smile, the nod hinting at understanding, or even by a touch of their hand. These people can connect with our mission (you do have one, right?), and more importantly, they take action to support the annual and long-range goals stated in the IEP.
Nonetheless and despite the uncertainty you face, you can seek out these gatekeepers when you go to the parent-teacher conference or attend the sporting event, or you might find that person in another parent who has already opened to gate to successful IEPs. Reach out to these gatekeepers. Invite them into your world.
More Changes to Come?
As the 21st Century gallops forward, pressures in the classroom are significant and daunting to many education professionals. As a parent, craft your plan and engage your child in learning how to self-direct and advocate for themselves. The Arc advocacy programs offer resources for you to develop your strategy and plan to acquire a practical education for your student.
To clarify, when systems of support for special needs kids developed in the last Century, we learned just how capable people with disabilities could be given a chance at a real education. Persistence pays.
Every day, mothers and fathers of special needs students take to Google, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook every day. They do it to understand and navigate the restructured education system, even as they tweet. This is real-time education where circumstances change frequently.
Finally, parents have been advocating for their children for eons. It’s in our DNA to protect our children, fight for them, and love them. That will be no different now or in the future. So what will you need to be a successful advocate in the coming years?
We will let you know our thoughts in the coming months. Let us know your strategies by commenting on this blog post.