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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Getting Injured Part of the "Job" or Not

Getting Injured Part of the "Job" or Not

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Recently it seems that it is becoming more the expectation that special educators will be injured on the job, and furthermore we should not complain or file accident reports. I am CPI trained and have never had to use restraint until this year. I avoid it even to getting injured myself. However when injured I will file a report. Personally I think that the student and the teacher have equal rights to be safe in the classroom setting. If restraint has to be used repeatedly shouldn't a behavior manifestation meeting be held and LRE discussed? Are other special ed teachers getting hurt on the job?

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Stephanie Volkov's picture

While I was getting my Bachelor's in Special Ed I tutored specific "hard to handle" special needs students. I went to a low income school and was placed in a self-contained classroom. I was hit, kicked, and one time my shirt was ripped off. The teacher I was placed with never even told me I needed to do any thing regarding paper work or special training(first year in college). I later learned that I had to file a report(which she should have done) and get restraint training. Horrible experience for everyone. I was actually scared of a 9yr old boy.
That same boy was moved to a different school and the classroom management made such a huge difference! He was so much calmer and got along well with others..no more hitting!
I was then placed in another school in a self-contained class and there was no violence at all...the teacher and aid were great and the student knew what they could and could not do and that violence was not tolerated at all.
I think the teachers make such a huge difference. Being calm and caring, yet not letting anything slide makes a huge difference.

Rhonda Browning's picture

If you have the privilege of doing special ed., you're going to get hurt. Autistic and emotionally disturbed students are the most difficult. I am surprised at the commenter getting hurt feeding a small child with a g-tube. He might have been startled. With multis you have to move slowly, be concerned about the reflexes, love them, and let them know what you are doing. They respond to firm touch. Don't touch lightly and avoid the face if they are tactile defensive. Light touch can be annoying. Firm usually feels good. Be wary if a child is labeled deaf/blind. Rarely are they completely either one and may appear to be when they are not. If you do not love multis, please go to mild disabilities.

The first thing you need is a good paraprofessional. Don't go to the principal about this. Go to the Special Education Director or your coordinator or Department Chair if you have a bad one. This is a "family" problem. Keep it in the family. Regular ed does not want the kids there in the first place and they don't comprehend our issues unless they are special ed. themselves. (An administrator who is a special education parent or a former special educator who moved down in order to go into administration is usually helpful, however.)

If you have a lazy para, see if you can get her sent to Behavior Disorders or Regular. Sometimes you will get a grateful para from EBD and the bad one will get her just punishment because the BD teacher will modify her behavior. (This happened at my school in New Orleans. The para QUIT rather than stay in EBD self contained! It was hilarious. She was awful and got in fights with the teacher.)

Protect yourself. If you have a good para, protect her and always the children. Let your body be the one that gets bruised, not your para's. You get stuck in the raggedy elevator, not your para. You get the "big" check. You take the risk. NEVER make her do all the work or you will soon have no para and they will transfer to another school rather than work with you! However, I did have a very lazy teacher next to me who paid her para under the table. The para did all the work. The teacher arranged flowers, made decorations and mispelled bulletin boards. She did well.

When I had a big autistic girl whom I had to wait alone with after school for her late bus, I tried to keep furniture between her and me when she became agitated. I also left the door open since she had a history of choking a teacher out. But with another one, much smaller, I got some arm pads, gardening gloves and a long sleeved sweatshirt. I was determined that he was not going to pinch his way out of learning as he had for years. When he found he could not hurt me, he screamed twice, quit pinching and learned an immense amount that year.

I had a blind SED with mild cerebal palsy that I had to keep on a leash to prevent her from hurting my multihandicapped kids. When she would go off I would make sure that neither my para nor kids would get hurt in the elevator. I also had to put a child with Cornelia de Lang in a belted chair to calm him and keep him from injuring other students. I had a very spoiled teen who used a wheelchair who had not been taught to behave when he was small enough to handle because his mother was a friend of the special education director and it was a middle class system. As a result he was very wild at 17. He was labeled severely retarded but was really moderate. He frequently became sexually aggressive but it was impossible to fix at his age what should have been dealt with when he was much younger (Word to the wise about inappropriate touching. STOP IT AS SOON AS IT STARTS. WHAT IS CUTE AT 6 IS DANGEROUS AT 16.) The kind of things he did, like grabbing the PE teacher's privates, would have sent anyone else to jail.

I had one fairly bad injury, spraining my knee lifting a student and falling. I was often bruised and hurt my back twice. The 17 year old cut me with his fingernails in Walmart when I would not let him go after a cashier's rear end. My para would not deal with him in public any more after he got a cashier one week. His mother made every excuse not to keep his nails very short, even when I sent home a picture of my bloody hand. (She also had a drinking issue.) Oh, I have also been bit by a 10 year old who had a 2 year old mental age (Think 2. They bite.) He was a favorite, however, and learned to wash clothes and say 27 words and 3 sentences in one school year so the bite was worth it!

Ok, with all that, I have 27 years experience, mostly multihandicapped, by choice, and love my work. The bruises and bumps are just part of the job. Document what happens. Be SLOW to call in the "experts". The teacher, if she is a career, degreed special educator IS the expert. She knows the kids and outsiders will probably come in with something mild, politically correct, and utterly ineffective to start with. Document what you do to modify behavior and how it worked. Have your paperwork ready if you call someone in to avoid being told to do the stuff that does not work. BIP programs can be abusive. The blind SED had been through BIP twice. When her former BIP teacher came to visit she became so agitated she kicked and screamed. She calmed down immediately when she left! Sometimes heavy behavior modification is not the best way. Working through the child's moodiness, recognizing good and bad days, rewarding positive change, environmental modification, making the child comfortable, remembering that teenage girls get PMS (real important), allowing real choices, food, music, and yes, love and cuddling can help. Treat your student like a person! A real human being with a mind! But be warned: Lower functioning kids know if you REALLY care or if you are faking and just doing a job. The SED was very affectionate when she wanted to be and her behavior was greatly improved after a year where she was accepted as she was. She was a double crack baby being raised by her paternal grandmother who had also been caring for her own mother with Alzheimers when she was still small enough to handle physically and had been subjected to an extremely incompetent and abusive primary teacher. (I had her in middle school.)

Ok. Document. Call the experts if you cannot fix the problem yourself only. If you have a serious injury, take leave, get medical help, do what you need to. Assault leave is occasionally necessary. Carry disability insurance. Press the system to get you a good classroom para and a LOAD REDUCTION PARA if you have a rough class. The best para is not always the brightest one. It is the one who will work, will not throw her weight around, and wants to learn. A load reduction para is an extra paraprofessional assigned to a difficult class. Do not ask for a CHILD SPECIFIC para because they tend to think they are the child's teacher and often won't do anything but care for their child even in an emergency. A load reduction para is assigned to the whole class. The teacher, not the para should be in charge. However, the relationship should be that of co-workers, not master/slave. (Yes, I said that. I have seen a lot of paraprofessional abuse.) She is your good right hand, not your maid. Nurture your para. Buy her a birthday and Christmas present. Ask her opinion and use it in your IEPS. Cut her some slack when she does not feel well.

With high functioning students, there may be adminstrative or even legal involvement, but this should be avoided if possible, because you could ruin a child's life. Particularly, legal involvement should be avoided with inner city and poor children. They often don't recover because the legal system is harsh on the poor and the child just quits when he gets out of juvenile or jail because he may not have the family support he needs to come back and graduate. Occasionally it is necesary, as when a visually impaired/LD student brought a gun to school because he was being teased about his vision problem. Someone told his Vision teacher. He had to bring the law in, but he also went to court with the boy. Because of the teacher, he got probation.

In middle class schools you might get into politically sticky situations as with my student and an autistic one who kicked his teacher so hard he dislodged some organs. The previous year the previous teacher had asked for help from the "experts" and was required to use ineffective techniques that included allowing him to pinch and scratch the teacher because it was "part of his disability".
If a behavior is part of the disability, that DOES NOT mean you let it continue. It means that you use special education means to modify the behavior or to arrange the situation so that the child is less likely to engage in it. It means that you do not go to "school rules" to change the behavior. But you do change it. You never allow socially unacceptable behavior to continue without attempting to abate it. If you do you are not serving your student. You are not doing your job.

For example, autistic students tend to get rid of new materials, often by throwing them backwards over their heads. So you bolt down the materials. I often did this with my modified toys. Once James got over that he could not throw it, he interacted appropriately. C-clamps will hold lunch trays in place if a child throws them. If a student tears up worksheets, tape them to the table. If he tends to skip school on test day, be sure the test is ready and waiting when he comes back, an alternate form if there is a likelihood he called a friend for the answers.

With lower functioning students you have to consider the whys of the situation and protect yourself. You also modify the environment and prepare the student if something he does not like is happening. James freaked out if he heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner so I moved him to another area if one was being used. However, I was able to desensitize him to the sound of the blender by gradual exposure coupled with positive stimulation and also by attaching a switch that he could control. You have to be creative with students who have autism.

A final word. Changing diapers is not a terrible thing. It is what you do so that your students can access educational services! Think about it that way and you won't mind. Keep your children clean and they will love you for it. They like to smell good and look cute. Change them when they need to be changed, not on a schedule, and don't leave it to your para alone. G-tube feeding is a whole lot easier than feeding a child with severe cerebral palsy by mouth. They get enough to eat, hold their weight and you don't have to worry about choking. It is not life support. It is simply a different way of eating.

Finally, never underestimate your "low functioning" students. They understand a lot more than you know and every last one of them communicates. Talk to them and read to them. Act like they have good sense and they might surprise you. AND NEVER, EVER TALK NEGATIVELY ABOUT THEM OR ALLOW ANYONE ELSE, INCLUDING THE PRINCIPAL, TO IN FRONT OF THEM. I remember a student who had injured his mother previously and who was assumed not to know what he was doing. He was 15 and about 6 feet tall supposedly severely retarded and blind. One day his mother and sister came to pick him up. He grabbed his sister by the hair. I said firmly, "Brandon, let go of your sister's hair. You are hurting her." Brandon let go immediately and did not go back to pulling. No one had ever given him credit for being able to process the idea of hurting another person! I did the same thing with a TBI. When he pinched me I took his hands firmly and told him I had a rule: Do not hurt the teacher. He was just another underestimated student. He had always been underestimated. When I found out he was TBI rather than MR I got some adult readers and had him reading 125 words and speaking in simple sentences by Christmas. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR CHILDREN.

That is a last message. Read your files. Do your research. Know your etiologies. They tell you a lot about what to expect, especially if your child has a rare disability. Knowing etiology can help you choose methods and materials that are likely to work. And finally: Do not go into special education unless that is what you feel led to and want to do! And do not go into severe disabilities if you are more comfortable with mild disabilities. If you feel like you are babysitting, you are and that is not your job. We do not need any babysitters in special education. We need creative, strong, advocates.

BEd. Special Education
MEd. Severe Disabilities/multihandicapped
27years experience

Louise's picture

I,too, am a sped teacher(HS),in a therapeutic school. Thankfully, I have not been injured -- yet. Often, I find myself in the classroom with 5-8 kids at one time and no help. I'm not afraid of my students --disabilities range from MR to ODD -- but am always aware. We have ongoing TCI training which I have used sparingly when someone else needs assistance.

Injury as part of our job -- no. We have rights as well. Our classrooms are supposed to be safe for everyone. If I do become injured, I will, indeed, file a report. Hopefully, recognizing when someone is upset or becoming so, will continue to help keep us safe. Guess next year will tell the tale as I will have some students who are new to my class and may not understand that we work hard.

Louise's picture

Thank you for your words. I wholeheartedly agree with you -- the one outstanding issue is to KNOW YOUR STUDENTS!

On another note, I noted that you have a BEd -- what is that? I'm trying to find more training and am hitting walls! Thanks, Louise

Rhonda Browning's picture

A B.Ed is just a Bachelors, the basic college degree in Education. I got mine from the University of Alabama. Special Education teachers really NEED a Masters (M.Ed)at least, because it gives specialty and establishes you as a career teacher and gives so much additional education. Everything is professionally related---no junk like English and math, repeats of high school. I got mine at Georgia State University in Severe Disabilities/Multihandicapped. I am also close to an Ed.S, but I got sick. A Masters is very useful when other teachers and administrators think you are a day care worker. We were actually referred to in that way by a kindergarten teacher in Atlanta. (Did I PUFF? You know it.) Regular ed. tends to think that since our kids are slow that we are not professionals--they don't need them. And with the tendency by some state superintendents and other "experts" to degrade the importance of a Masters degree and National Certification for economic reasons (usually pays more) disguised by the complaint that it does not raise test scores, a Masters is all the more important, whether you get paid more or not. Nowadays schools will hire "teachers" who do not have degrees in education and even the President has lauded Teach for America which has this crazy idea that a college degree in any field makes you a competent teacher with only a few weeks of training. (There is a Teach for America in Louisiana who has a paraprofessional who is a retired teacher!) Then they place them with the children who are MOST in need of teachers who know what they are doing! Ever wonder why there is still an educational achievement disparity between rich and poor children? All I can say is that I would almost guarantee that Malia and Sasha Obama have professional, career educators over their classes. Every child deserves a quality education.

Knowing your children, Louise, that is the key to being a good teacher. That is easier in special ed because we have fewer kids and often have them for several years. BELIEIVING IN THEM. Believing they can learn. Believing they want to learn. Believing they can behave appropriately. When you believe you act on your beliefs and you convey those beliefs to your children. And it does not matter their level or their problems. If a child is conscious, unless he has a cognitively dengenerative condition, he or she CAN learn. And if he has a dengenerative condition, you can probably figure out some props and supports so he can at least continue to function. That is another part of the point of knowing your etiology. You need to know what sort of disability you are working with to be most effective.

Rhonda Browning's picture

This pressure not to report has gotten worse in the last few years with No Child Left Behind because part of the Report Card the schools get is based on violence in the school. So many schools disguise the violence and handle it inhouse, pressuring teachers not to report it. Plus, with Teach for America supplying non-career college graduates, it is easier for systems to get "teachers". And now there are the layoffs. I know a MALE with a Masters who has been working out of field and still does not have a position and a woman who was gotten rid of mid-year, professional, experienced in a system that does not provide contracts (DON'T GO TO A SYSTEM THAT DOES NOT PROVIDE CONTRACTS!) and is now working as a custodian (not in a school). She had been having difficulties with one of her principal. She was a counselor with a behavioral intervention program. Some systems, usually the low achieving ones, regard teachers as about as valuable as an undocumented Mexican day laborer. When they finish the job they are no longer of value.

I knew a teacher in New Orleans who was working as a test monitor and a student caught her in the hall and proceeded to become sexually aggressive her and indicate that he was going to get "more". He was back at school the next day so he could finish his test in the office and the teacher was told not to sue the parents and let the school handle the reporting! She was very young and developed emotional problems as result of the molestation.

Rhonda Browning's picture

You can get an EdS ONLINE through Northwestern State University in Louisiana in Instructional Leadership/Educational technology. Goes well with a special education degree and you can give it a special education twist. One of the head people with the program is in Council for Exceptional Children and has parented several special needs children although her background is regular education. This is not a diploma mill school. It is a public college.

Special Education Teacher / Emotional Behavior Disorder's picture
Special Education Teacher / Emotional Behavior Disorder
High Functioning Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and Procesing Issues

It is definitely important to know your students and also to develop a relationship with them. Connection is a huge key in developing trust. It is very important to state that safety is important for everyone, staff and students alike. I believe students want limits, reasonable limits. If they know they can hurt you or anyone and get away with it, it undermines their feelings of safety. Working with intermediate students with high functioning autism, asperger's and other issues in a self-contained classroom, it is important to set high expectations, behaviorally and academically for students to feel success. Fortunately I have worked in a district that has been very suppotive with good training. I am apalled at some of the things I hear. However, I would always file charges if I were assaulted, I feel that is my right as a human being. I have been hurt before, and have filed charges. While it was an uncomfortable situation, I was not sorry. I have told my students that I will file charges if they purposely hurt me. It is my job to keep them and myself safe.

Priscilla's picture

You need to discuss "least restrictive environment" and placement options for a student who hurts/injures teachers or others. Perhaps a public school setting is not the LRE. You and the other students have a right to be safe. Using restraints is not something you want to be doing a lot; liability issues. I'm a school social worker who works with a classroom of "behaviorally challenged"/emotionally disturbed children.

Priscilla's picture

You need to discuss "least restrictive environment" and placement options for a student who hurts/injures teachers or others. Perhaps a public school setting is not the LRE. You and the other students have a right to be safe. Using restraints is not something you want to be doing a lot; liability issues. I'm a school social worker who works with a classroom of "behaviorally challenged"/emotionally disturbed children.

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