How’d You Get Started as a Prison Special Education Teacher?

So, my depression got bad enough that I had to resign my position as a SpEd teacher at a jail. I am still crying a lot about that. I’m leaving this up for now, but this site is probably going to undergo some big changes soon.

I’m a Special Education Teacher, and I work in a juvenile detention center.  Honestly, I think it’s the best teaching job, and maybe I can convince you of that.  

I teach and coordinate special education services at a juvenile detention facility in the United States.  I teach boys and girls almost exclusively under the age of 18, at which point they graduate to the facility down the road.  

I’m not entirely proud of how I became a special education teacher, but here it is, nevertheless.  First off, I became a general education teacher.  I dropped out of medical school and needed a source of income–a real career, and not just a minimum-wage job (selling fish, if you’re curious).  So, I found an alternative certification program, spent a few months doing preservice coursework, and got a job teaching high school science in Texas.  Mostly Biology, though somehow also AP Environmental Science.

In Texas, you have to pass the state Biology exam to graduate, so Biology is a pretty serious part of large high schools.  My school had 5 or 6 biology teachers, if you included the special education teacher dedicated to biology courses. He was a football coach in Texas, which meant that it really didn’t matter how well he did the teaching portion of his job–but he was terrible at it.  If I had to ask for quiet in my classroom, odds were even it was him I was reprimanding.  

I figured that if this man was an acceptable special education teacher, I should look into certification.  Actually, the idea of being a good co-teacher was so enticing to me–not being the only adult in the classroom, sharing the responsibility of planning lessons, sharing the focus on group and individual instruction with another teacher…  It became my white whale of teaching.  The fact that this man was abominable, an actual burden in the classroom, yet at least as employable as me?  This was worth looking in to.  

I moved to a new state in the United States, one a bit more liberal this time.  (More liberal than Texas? That isn’t saying much. Then again, I am trying to stay at least sort of anonymous, to protect my allegedly criminal students… and myself)  (That said, any time a student is mentioned, at least 3 facts and characteristics have been altered, so don’t get too excited about figuring out the true version of these stories.  I’m true enough, that I promise.)

So yeah.  I got a teaching job in the new state…and had an emotional breakdown and wound up in a psychiatric hospital for a while, which–on the bright side–managed to successfully prevent suicide.  And then I basically repeated the whole routine the following school year, complete with quitting my teaching job and spending time in the psych hospital.  I’m nothing if not a creature of habit.

Things I learned… as it turns out, electroconvulsive therapy is actually helpful for me, although there’s certainly downsides to it.  That may be a whole ‘nother blog post, though.  

And then I got a job teaching preclinical medical coursework at an Associates of Applied Science program, teaching everything from Algebra to English, Biochemistry to Anatomy & Physiology.  I did that for a year, and now I’ve returned to public schools, although my current placement is anything but a typical public school. Of course, I’m always terrified that I may crash emotionally again, but that’s partly why I’m developing this blog–journaling and embracing community are both tried and true methods of managing my overall mood.  

So yeah.  Now I’m the Special Education Department at a juvenile detention center in the MidWest.  We have under 65 students, less than 25% of which are determined to be Special Education, in general.  My father has spent decades or so working as a psychologist in various detention centers, so I suppose one could argue that it runs in the family… but here I am, now, too.  He’s mostly retired, though he still travels and advises.

I may discuss the educational background of a juvenile detention center special education teacher in a future post.  Spoiler alert–it’s roundabout, and probably not yet done.