A teachers journey
Today’s guest author is Sharon Bense. After teaching special education in the public schools for 20 years, Sharon Bense, co-founded Clover Community School in Bentonville, Arkansas, to give students who learn differently a chance to attend a school created just for them. Sharon has a bachelors degree in psychology from the University Texas in Austin.
I started teaching 19 years ago. I started in a public school setting as a paraprofessional or an aide in a special needs classroom. I had the luxury of teaching alongside a wonderful teacher and another assistant so I learned how to be a wonderful teacher right from the get-go. There was never the thought or even threat or using restraint or seclusion. Soon after I decided to get certified in special education. Restraint and seclusion were barely mentioned, if at all. I taught one year in a very small district in Texas, never even hearing of restraint and seclusion or being trained, etc…
I moved to New York City and taught at a huge public school in a self-contained middle school classroom. Again, no mention or training of restraint or seclusion. I had students of all abilities and all levels in one classroom. I used lots of de-escalation techniques and called “security” only a handful of times, but never restrained anyone or even thought of it. After 3 years there, I moved back to Texas, where before I could even start teaching, I had to get certified in a new program that after trying de-escalation techniques, you moved to restraint. I was scared, didn’t feel strong enough and didn’t realize the classroom situation I was walking into. These kids had been in classrooms in elementary school where they were restrained a lot, so there was a lot of aggression. However, I quickly realized these kids were the same type of kids I had taught in all my previous years and I quickly gained a rapport and showed what our classroom would look like.
In the beginning, there was still LOTS of aggression, destroying the classroom and just overall craziness. I held strong, asked for some help, but was just met with “you should clear your room and restrain the aggressor”. So I did. It quickly led to more and more aggression. So I stopped restraining. Behaviors increased (as expected), but THEN, they decreased (as expected). My restraint reports became zero by Christmas and everyone wanted to know why and how. Unfortunately over the years, this repeated itself, every time I would get a new batch of kids from the elementary school who had been in an environment that relied on the use of restraint. Other teachers bought into restraining and what they were told by the district. I was applauded, given awards, but this did not matter to me. I had to make a difference. I started doing training in my district on teaching social skills and rapport building. It worked…with some of the teachers. Others fell right back into restraining.
I quit after 10 years, moved to Arkansas, taught one year there, where it was the same rhetoric. Restrain, restrain, restrain. Room clear, room clear, room clear. This was an ELEMENTARY classroom with kindergarteners in it, who were terrified. In one year, the progress I made in this classroom was tremendous. Again, I was awarded Teacher of the Year for “fixing” the most aggressive kids. But, it didn’t matter to me. I quit…and went private, tutoring and advocating for special needs families. Soon after I was approached by another passionate woman who had been looking for a teacher to help her open a school to meet those learners who were being left behind. So we started a non-profit, bought a farm and are in year two of running a special needs school on a farm, here in Bentonville, AR, Clover Community School. No restraining, just keeping kids busy and loved!