Webster defines “innovation” as a new idea, device, or method. I am back for my thirteenth year in education and my third as a Special Education teacher in an elementary setting.

Our administration has asked us to spear head an “innovation challenge” where we are to look towards new ways of improving student learning. I love the idea. I am grateful for administration that feels we can be stewards of our own learning. But I am lost in ideas of how to approach this challenge. Over the past 24 hours it feels less like a challenge and more like a dilemma.

I do want to improve student learning. I struggle getting some of my students to remember content from day to day, week to week, or month to month. I want to better understand what I can do with my students in 30 minute windows to improve their retention as I must move them along the continuum towards state assessments. Yes, they each have Individualized Education Plans, and yes, they each have goals on these plans that outline what they are to work on.  But at the end of the day they will be tested on the same rigor as the others. Right or wrong, my state has done away with any type of modified high-stakes testing.

I do want to know more about how to provide meaningful inclusion services for Special Education students even when I see things very differently from the psychological reports that recommended a label. I do wish I could split myself in two and have students who would fare better in the classroom in an inclusion setting while simultaneously pulling quieter more limited students into my space for their services. I wish I could do it all.

And the irony is that until I figure out what else I want to do, I am completely disappointed with the entire system that sent them my way. There are aspects that I loathe, that I do not believe have the best interests of children at heart. There are many reasons why I feel the system is broken. And when I can’t sleep at night it is because I contemplate how I perpetuate the problems for these children even when by day I am their fiercest advocate. Sometimes I know them better than their own classroom teachers or school administration.

Looking towards innovation seems daunting and exhausting when all I am doing is trying to survive in a home with a broken foundation where the walls crumble around me. The environment is not my school’s fault. Of all the years I have been around educational systems, which is most of my life, I am in the most loving and accepting school.

I am not looking to start an argument. I would hope any readers who happen upon this article would understand the backdrop without wanting to engage a debate. The backdrop is one of historic oppression. There are reasons why minority students are over identified for Special Education and under identified in Gifted and Talented programs. I in no way believe that it is a representation of these populations, but rather a problem and a lack of understanding of the dominant discourse that attempts to put systems in place to protect minority students.

It is within these systems of the federal and state governments that paper work appears by the mounds. The legal terminology, that few outside of my field understand, seems to be one of the few ways that I know how to communicate with the world. Words are technical and specific. Parents and guardians do not always know how to navigate these systems that will impact their students for the rest of their lives.

I find the psychological reports that brought students my way to be mired in cultural biases of which few stand a chance. The evaluators have little relationship with the students they are testing. My least favorite thing to do is read or review a report that finds a child to have a disability. Over the course of a year or more I see little evidence of the disability that brought most of them my way. The system in place to check for this is a re-evaluation every three years. Many times I have trouble buying into the quantitative game when I can get many of them to pass state assessments. I am always more concerned with the qualitative aspects of their lives.

It sounds like I am ready to go back to graduate school for social justice issues, doesn’t it? But if I can’t even figure out what to do for my innovation challenge, then I can’t imagine trying to navigate projects as the university level.