How to change special education from the bottom up
Nearly 15 years later, I still vividly remember my first day of teaching high school in New York City. I was woefully unprepared. I learned that one of the 33 students in my class was on the autism spectrum, one had dyslexia, two had ADHD, another had a processing disorder, and five had varying degrees of other learning and behavioral challenges. I was expected to help each of them to reach their full potential. I was 23 and completely overwhelmed.
This is the reality for thousands of teachers in American schools, and the consequences are dire. Suffering from stress and burnout, half of new teachers leave the profession altogether after just five years. Special education teachers are especially vulnerable, and their numbers nationally have declined 17 percent in the past decade. Yet students with disabilities and learning challenges need teacher support the most: They are 200 percent more likely to be suspended or expelled, up to 40 percent in some states do not graduate on time, and 33 percent of arrested juveniles have a diagnosed learning disability. How did we get here?