The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Not Knowing What to Do

Today I was a supportive services teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School. More specifically, I was the teacher working with students who had varying degrees of autism, which meant that they needed a lot of support for everything. As a result, I honestly had no clue what to do.

It isn’t very often that I find myself in such a situation. I can even hold my own when working with students who are hard-of-hearing or deaf (something I did a handful of times back in September, before I started blogging about my adventures). But today was definitely one of those days. The students I was assigned to work with spend the majority of their day in this room, participating in educational activities that I simply do not understand. Their teacher, along with her aides, have an understanding of the students’ needs that is the product of years of training and months of working with them, day in and day out. It isn’t something that I can just pick up in a day, nor is it something that I can fake my way through, like I can when teaching the core content areas. I always know beforehand that assignments in special education/supportive services may be difficult. I accept them, though, because I am confident that I can make some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a burden to the other teachers with whom I will be working.

Fortunately, there were three aides in the classroom (two regular aides and one substitute aide who has been there several times in the past) who knew what to do. There were also a number of students who serve as mentors and help out. The wonderful women, young women, and, yes, even one young man, did an amazing job today. They knew what to do. They knew what the students needed, and were able to communicate with them in a way that I was unable to do. I am in awe of the patience, compassion, and understanding that is required of the men and women who pursue a career in special education. It is something that, being completely honest, I simply do not think I would be able to do.

One of the greatest benefits of working as a substitute teacher, other than getting to teach on a near-daily basis, is learning what I can and cannot do. I can’t do it on my own, because I’m no Superman. But you know what? That’s totally okay! I may not have known what to do, but I was able to do something today, anyway. I was able to keep an eye on a young man who has no motor control. I was able to monitor a young woman, who is more developed than the others in the class, as she did a simple math activity on a computer. I was able to read to a young man who doesn’t deal well with new people, yet was willing to sit next to me on a couch and listen to me read. He also sat by me as I read the latest in my series of vocational texts (even if he wasn’t interested in hearing me read aloud the ins and outs of balanced literacy).

So I may not have known what to do today, but I still had a great day, and, at the end of the day, I was thanked for what I did. That, to me, means that I accomplished something, after all.

And now, completely unrelated to anything at all, I thought I’d share this video:


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