Tales from a Special Ed Classroom

“I’M SO STUPID,” a wail disrupts the special education classroom I’m visiting. 

It’s been relatively calm the last half hour, and I look over, surprised at the sudden outburst. The student in question has major behavioral issues, and has been in and out of the classroom all morning. He’s thrown temper tantrums reminiscent of a two-year-old, even though he’s in second grade. He can go from sweet and fun to all out screaming within a matter of seconds. At least one, if not two, teachers are with him at all times. 

As he protests doing his assignment, which is weeks old, he repeatedly hits the side of his head with his fist. Behind his eyes I see real tears threatening to fall, not the false ones he uses to get attention and get out of work. My heart broke. I watched him take a math test a few hours earlier. His comprehension was nearly at the level of neurotypical students his grade level. I know he’s not stupid. 

But he believes it. 

It’s still harder for him to complete the work compared to neurotypical students. His brain gets tired very easily. His behavioral problems disrupt his schooling, keeping him out of classrooms and away from learning. Later, when he gets frustrated by his lack of knowledge and mental struggles, he acts out. And the cycle continues. His teachers are doing their best to help him stay in the classrooms as much as possible. 

But he CAN get it. He’s not stupid. But he knows the whole school system is telling him he is. The whole world is telling him he is. Just because he’s in special ed doesn’t mean he’s not aware of how the rest of the world treats him. He knows. 

“I’m so stupid,” he says, quieter this time. He sounds hopeless. 

He believes it. 

And that’s why I want to be a special ed teacher.

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