Hi-Line Living: Special Ed teachers prepare for school
August 26, 2016
Last Friday, four special education teachers, most of them new to Havre High, met to coordinate schedules for 63 students, the special ed students registered at the high school. Classes wouldn't start for another two weeks, but work was literally piling up.
Special ed teachers scrutinize every individual schedule to fit the students' unique needs. Every special ed student has an individualized education plan, called an IEP, represented by a bulky stack of paperwork.
Joined by Director of Special Services Karla Geda, teachers Jolene Christensen, Rachel Haug, Carol Komrosky and Chelsea Farr were huddled around a table of paperwork, working on IEPs. It was everyone's, but Komrosky's, first year at Havre High.
Paperwork, the teachers unanimously agreed, is on another level when it comes to their profession.
"Lots of paperwork. ... There are no students that are the same," Komrosky said.
Of the four, she will not have a classroom.
"She's wearing many hats this year," Geda said.
Komrosky is a 19-year education veteran, most of that time at Lincoln McKinley Primary School. She will be helping the other teachers, filling gaps as needed.
As the meeting progressed, the background filled with the play sounds of several young children who belonged to two of the teachers.
Christensen will be teaching math and this will be her first year at Havre High. She had her baby, who was sound asleep, strapped to her front side. She had also brought 4-year-old twins Adalynn and Avery with her. The girls were playing with building blocks in a large spacious room connected to the one the teachers were meeting in.
The teachers would later explain that the spacious room, which was named The Multi-Purpose Room on the spot, is intended as a haven.
"It's a room for kids who need to calm down, decompress, or maybe need a lot of movement," Komrosky said.
"If someone needs to cool down a little bit, it provides that opportunity," Geda added.
With one table in the middle, a large brown beanbag in the corner, and plenty of space in between, the scarcity of furniture is intentional. The aim is to keep stimuli to a minimum. There are plans to add dividers in the room.
Komrosky said the special ed program has students registered with almost every one of the 13 special ed categories: autism, blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impaired, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.
Haug will be teaching high-need students' life skills classes, low reading, science and adaptive art. Farr will be teaching social skills and reading classes.
Neither of the teachers intended to become special ed teachers.
"It was a few extra classes when I first started," Haug said. "Wasn't really sure what I thought. It ended up being my first job."
"That's kind of what happened to me too," Farr added. "I started out in general education and I did that for five years. And then I had an opportunity to move into a special education position. I just knew that I really enjoyed working with really small groups of children. I just felt you can really build those relationships in a way that you can't do the same way with a larger group of children."
The teachers said being a special ed teacher can be emotionally taxing.
"It can be overwhelming," Farr said.
"I remember actually going to the restroom to sit down and cry," Komrosky added. "It's that spectrum of emotions for these kiddos."
But nobody said they'd rather be doing something else.
"I thought about quitting more when I was teaching regular ed," Farr said. "I don't think it was harder. I felt like there was too many kids and I couldn't connect with them. And that's why you keep doing it. For me, it's those individual relationships."
Although the work never ends, the job can be emotionally-draining and the mountain of paperwork is much higher, the rewards are greater as well.
"I feel like sometimes I don't see the rewards right away, just because some of the kids I've worked with in the past have been a little more challenging at times," Haug said. "But then they'll do something kind of suddenly, or you'll start seeing that they're making progress, whether it's communicating more, or making some of those smaller changes. Then I kind of see that I'm actually helping them, or helping them achieve something that wasn't possible before."
Haug said things like that don't happen every day, causing Komrosky to chime in.
"We have to celebrate everything," she said. "No matter how big or small the accomplishment. It could be they wash their hands, it might be he didn't walk by and hit someone."
The ladies agreed that celebrating things the students didn't do is just as common as celebrating what they do - because that too shows progress.
"All those little things are exciting because you've worked so hard with that student," Farr said.
Some of the classrooms are more ready than others, but everyone was equally eager to start the new year.
"At the beginning of the school year, there's always excitement. It's like a new beginning. There's not many professions where you get to"- Farr clapped her hands - "'Okay, we're going to start new.' I think that's a unique thing about teaching, and it's exciting - I think it's exciting," she said.
Geda is eager to work with the teachers.
"This is a great team ... and I can tell we're working together just fine," she said.
The teachers introduced their classrooms. Some were smaller, others more personalized than some. One even had a large smart TV. Haug's had little banners with inspirational slogans.
"Choose happiness," one says.