Find Out What It’s Really Like to Be a Special Education Science Teacher at Cotting School

By Andy Lindblad, Science Teacher

 

“Special education teacher? What’s that like?” 

Despite its simplicity, this common question—fielded at one time or another by everyone who works at Cotting—is deceptively hard to answer. Cotting students defy quick explanations and easy descriptions, and the culture in our school is unlike anywhere I’ve ever worked. I wanted to tell you today, as best I can, how our students taught me to respond to this question. 

Who says learning can’t be fun?!? A student enjoys demonstrating a theremin in science class with Mr. Lindblad.

The answer arrived one day, as all great answers do, in the form of a question; this one posed during my first fall as the science teacher. 

“Mr. Lindblad, can you confirm or deny the existence of obese dinosaurs?” 

In 16 years of teaching, I’ve fielded a lot of interesting questions, but that one tops the list.

“I have no idea…” I recall stammering, “but I’ll look into it!” Thus began a week of watching paleontologist interviews, reading scholarly articles on obesity rates of monitor lizard colonies and deep dives into dinosaur classification.

“Well,”  I was able to confidently say the following week, “when paleontologists discover a fossil, they calculate a minimum and maximum weight for the dinosaur, so while it could have been obese, we really have no way of knowing without knowing how readily available its food source was.” Question answered! I expected things to end there, but then another question was asked:

“Can you cross breed birds like you can dogs?”

And another: 

“Why do we divide days into groups of twelve?”  

Eventually, I was fielding so many questions that the class and I decided to write them down on sticky notes and put them on a classroom bulletin board titled, “That’s a Great Question!” When the final class before the holiday break arrived, I went through and answered them all together, and it was one of our best lessons of the year. 

We had another “That’s a Great Question!” lesson twice more before the end of that semester, and to begin the following year, I introduced the concept to all my science classes. I privately wondered if other students would enjoy this as much as that first class did, or if the Great Questions were just a product of one inquisitive group. Looking back, I really shouldn’t have worried. The questions came from everywhere.

“Is clear a color?”

“Why do wet things stick together?”

“Why do bug bites itch?”

“Can dreams predict the future?”

Mr. Lindblad helps a student demonstrate how a theremin works in a recent science class.

I had spent hours trying to fit science into the culture of Cotting; planning lessons around what science is, writing themes that had catchy names, teaching lessons on the scientific method, and my students went and defined it all on their own. 

Science is where Great Questions are answered. 

Students started stopping me in the halls with questions, emailing me questions during their free time and writing their own questions on sticky notes and delivering them to my room. Students who asked a Great Question were applauded by their peers, and I was asked weeks in advance when the next lesson would be. In all the years I’ve taught science, I’ve rarely had a repeat question, and they keep coming with the same enthusiasm as that first year.  

“What would happen if you could run as fast as The Flash?”

“Why does your car sound like a helicopter when you open a window?”

“Why is it so hard to focus when you’re anxious?”

“Can you swim in money like Scrooge McDuck?” 

“How does anesthesia work?”

So, between you and me, what’s it like being a special education science teacher?  I am held constantly in awe of our students’ curiosity, inquisitiveness and desire to learn. They rekindle my own sense of wonder at the world, and after five years teaching science at Cotting, the conversation from the beginning of this post is much easier. 

“What is that like?” people ask.  “Well,” I say, “my students ask the best questions.”