As a teacher in high school, I have the responsibility to guide my special needs students toward a satisfying and lucrative activity after graduation. Some can aspire to college, but most can do well in vocational schools where they will learn a trade that will allow them to become independent. Sometimes, however, I am faced with a difficult case; the student does not believe that he/she can be transformed into a useful citizen. Their self-esteem has been damaged by years of academic failure and by verbal abuse emitted by uncaring peers.
It is part of my job and my colleagues' in special education to detect these cases and strive to establish a personal bond that will allow us to penetrate the "emotional armor" raised as a first-line defense. We have four years to convert these teens into confident human beings with the help of counselors, other teachers, and the parents. The main tools we use in our effort to win their trust is good humor, frequent one-on-one talks, school material help (sometimes from our personal supplies), effective communication with parents or guardians, coordination with classroom teachers, with school principals, and, above all, with genuine care (not compassion).
A few students have to be placed in special classrooms due to their very low level of academic competency; they read with difficulty, they struggle abnormally with numbers, they fail to capture the essence of second level abstract concepts (thinking about thinking, for example). The practice of separating these students from regular classrooms is waning. Investigations have shown that most can perform well in mainstream education with adequate accommodations and modifications; the experience of learning with their non-disabled peers is a highly beneficial social interaction. Still, a very small minority of students must be handled separately due to their very severe physical and mental problems.
Teachers, unlike doctors, cannot help becoming attached to their students, especially with those who need the most attention. That is especially true of children with special needs. Our greatest reward is certainly not monetary; we feel fulfilled when an ex-student returns to school just to say hello and thank us for our patience and concern. As mentioned above, our (the teachers') main goal in high school is to make every effort to find a satisfying niche for all students once they graduate. Luckily for us, the state has established strict guidelines to lead these teens into the right slot, whether college, vocational school, or work. We sometimes fail, due to extreme circumstances outside our control, and the only consolation is that we did our best.
It is extremely important to work with the community and convince businesses that students with special needs often make the best workers. "Everybody Fits" must be a slogan sponsored by the private sector, not just public education. Compassion is admirable, but these children want recognition, not pity. At their level of skills, they can perform many tasks with success and thus become useful members of society, saving the government millions in welfare help.