Career Story: Special Education Art Teacher At A High School

Special Education Art Teacher At A High School

Job Title: High School Teacher, Special Ed.

Type of Company: I teach High School age kids who need a specialized, small, highly structured, therapeutic learning environment.

Education: BA in Fine Art, Newcastle University, UK

Previous Experience: I started working in the field of social work, as a residential social worker, then moved in to teaching, but with a very similar population.

Job Tasks: I teach high school. Our students all have IEP's, or Individualized Education Plans, that state that they need a structured setting, usually with a therapeutic element, small staff student ratio, specialized teachers, and individualized plans for their class work and curriculum. We have a pretty average schedule, but we are a small school, with no more than 12 students in each class. Each class has a head teacher, and an assistant.

Students are expected to complete as many courses and get as many credits as in a mainstream high school, and pass the standardized tests for the state in order to graduate. We offer a lot of specialized help and support. We know our students well, provide a great deal of structure throughout the day, and tailor our work to meet their needs both educationally and therapeutically.

I teach art and assist in the science class (which I taught for a while also). I also work in the Milieu, which is any area outside the classrooms, and is where students are dealt with is they are sent out of the class. We have a system of rules and consequences for behavior to maximize the students potential for success, and minimize distractions and negative behaviors.

I design my own curriculum according to the needs and experience of my students. We cover a broad spectrum of Visual Arts curriculum and students get to learn about many forms of Art, and work on a variety of projects. Currently we are making figure sculptures.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: I love teaching Art, and helping the kids enjoy Art and discover their own unique strengths and talents and creativity. I enjoy the challenge of working out how to best teach and communicate, so that I am really helping my students relax, feel free to create, and find a way to have Art in their lives. At the same time, students with behavioral and emotional problems are very challenging and can be exhausting to work with! This challenge can be rewarding, but at times demoralizing, depending on whether you feel you're helping and making progress or not.

Job Tips:
1. Get some experience first. Volunteer with the population of students you are thinking of working with.

2. Really figure out where you are personally, and be very honest with yourself. Teenagers, especially insecure ones, won't hesitate to exploit your weaknesses (they need to know you are safe), and will see right through you, so it is very important in this kind of work to be an honest, self aware, grounded person.

3. Know why you are going in to this work. Don't do it because you need to be a hero or savior. These kids need people who are stable, and can offer them stability.

4. Make sure you have effective ways to deal with stress!

Additional Thoughts: I work in a small setting, with a small staff team (22 people). This can be great, but you really have to be accountable for everything you do, and ready to work out a lot of interpersonal stuff. Consider the size of the place you want to work, and how much you want to work closely with other people. It can be great, but it's not for everyone.

In terms of personal qualities, I'd say that being self aware, being able to process and resolve difficult situations and relationships with others, and being honest and patient are great qualities to bring to this kind of work. Empathy is essential!

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