I am going to attend a workshop in October about compassion fatigue. Sounds interesting, right? Finally! Research, acknowledgement, awareness and support of those of us in helping professions. Empathy is what makes most of us good at what we do. It is that very empathy and emotional intelligence that wears us out. I have felt for some time that many of us were close to, if not in, the throes of PTSD. That was the closest I could come to identifying how many of us were responding physically and emotionally after years of service. There is a build up that happens when you are in direct service of those in chronic need. As an EBD teacher, I am not only exposed to their suffering daily, but the kids (sometimes the parents) are often quite verbally and physically abusive to everyone in striking distance.
I developed flashbacks, spotty depression, exhaustion, and GAD. Yikes. And it snuck up on me, took 15 years or so to really take hold. I began to feel this was normal. You know, the normalization of the abnormal. When I was a bit lost and feeling I was not needed (i.e.....no kid in crisis at the moment), I realized I was in a bad spot.
The reality is that many, many, many special education teachers are in the same spot.
Now this brings me to the other side of that whole syndrome. I am the mother of two special needs kiddos. So, do I want my own children in the hands of teachers who are on the brink of burnout and on overload due to really stupid administrative decisions? Ultimately it is the kids that lose. And they lose big. No child left behind? My ass! Tell me a high functioning kiddo with autism is going to get all the support needed to be successful in regular education classrooms when under his teacher's care are 13 other kiddos ranging in grades from K-6 and on various spots of the autism continuum? I know with certainty that kiddo will come last. The kiddos with more significant behaviors will get the attention. They have to. But this whole triage mindset and practice leaves lots of kids behind. The fact that administrators can assign kids to programs with no real understanding of what logistical challenges that teacher has to manage galls me. They assign and walk away, rarely checking in, and never offering any substantive support. Budget issues? That's a line. Don't give me that line when money was found to take 8 administrators to a week long Florida conference on PBIS! Many of us were told this year (when personnel cuts were announced) to just suck it up..or my favorite one, "when times are tough, really creative teachers think outside the box." Are you kidding me?
Quit leaving my kids behind. Quit leaving special education teachers behind. Soon we will all be fried crispy critters in other careers. You can only burn through so many of us. We are not an infinite number. Although I can be replaced, eventually schools will run out of replacements. Word is out. Special education is bad for your health.
And that makes me so sad.