Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Has anyone else been worried when you found out you'd been given a
Special Ed. Class?
I was... but I'm not any more.  Here's my story.
graphic credit:  www.edu-clips.com
Last year at Meet the Teacher, a little boy and his parents entered my room.   I immediately noticed something about the little boy.  He was making noises, touching and smelling everything.  I began to wonder if he was a special needs child because he reminded me of my best friend's child.  I had seen these behaviors in him many times.  The little boy's mother proceeded to ask me if he would be receiving his therapy this year in his new school.  "Yes," I replied.  "If he was receiving therapy at another school, he will also receive it here at our school."  Curious to find out if there was anything besides the speech she had mentioned, I asked, "Does he have any other disabilities?"  She replied, "No, just the autism." (Insert big eyed emoji face here!!!)
I guess she thought I knew, but I didn't.  I don't know what the look on my face was, but inside... I was horrified.  The thoughts of doubt and insecurities ran rampant.  Would I be able to do this child justice?  I had never had a special needs child in my class.  I'd been teaching for over 20 years, but someone else more qualified had always taken care of the special needs children.  Surely there was some mistake.  And, there was.... But, the Special Ed. class was already full.  So, to make sure that this child with autism was cared for properly, he was left with me and another child with autism was added to my class. After all, I had been teaching for over 20 years! 
 I was now a special education teacher..... and I WAS SCARED!  I felt completely unprepared. 
What if I messed up?  What if I FAILED them? 
On Friday afternoon, just after I had received the news that I would be one of the two special ed. clusters in first grade at my school, I headed out for the weekend.  In the short ten minute drive to my house, I thought or should I say worried about my new undertaking.  And like a miracle, a warm, peaceful calm washed over me as I drove home.   A voice inside my head said, "He needs you...His parent's need you."  I remember thinking about what a hard time my best friend had with her son with autism.  Having a special needs child is hard.  I vowed to make sure my new little friend would have a great year and his parents would not be stressed out.  I began to take a totally different attitude about the whole experience.
During the 2015-2016 school year, I feel in love with a little boy and his family. Somehow I knew exactly what my new friends needed. I didn't think too much about their IEP's.  I just thought about how to make sure they had a great year.  Here are a few things that I learned from the experience.
1.  Don't try to make a special need child into a regular ed. student.  Try to find their strengths and use those to drive your decisions.
2. Don't "set" your special needs child off.  If you see them getting upset, back off and take another approach.  When a child shuts down/acts out, everyone loses.  Your regular ed. students and your special needs children.  You don't have to win every time.  It's not about winning.
3.  Understand your goals as a special needs teacher: Make sure the special needs children make the most of their day.  IEP's are not the End All... Happy kids that want to stay at school and come back the next day are.  :) 
4.  Make connections with your special needs students just as you do your regular ed. students.  The more you know about them, the better you will communicate with them.
5.  Ask for help from your peers when needed. 
6.  Don't constantly have bad things to say about your special needs students. 
Here's a story about that:  At science night, we had a large crowd.  My little friend and his mother came down the hallway.  Immediately, even though it was super crowded in the hallway, the other teachers on my team began calling his name.  His mother was almost in tears.  "Oh my God," she said.  "They love him."  With a big smile I said, "Of course they do.  He is precious to all of us." 
That conversation made me think about how important my words to my colleagues were.  What if I had said that he was hard to manage or that he made a lot of noise in the classroom and he drove me crazy?  I made that positive experience happen for his mother by loving her child and treating him with kindness and compassion...even though I didn't realize that  was what I was doing at the time.   That is one of the biggest things that I learned having a special needs child.  Just love them.  Understand their needs and try to help them have a good year.  If that means that they are not doing exactly what the other kids are doing every second of the day, then fine.  Since some students have a hard time communicating with me, I can't assume that everything is okay, so I give them time to work through what's bugging them.
I'm not saying to let the sped children do as they please everyday... all day.  I'm just saying that sometimes it's okay if they aren't. And sometimes, that's all they need.  A little break.  If they continue trying to get out of doing what they are asked, you might have to try something different. 
My little friend would do almost anything for one little candy corn or a skittle. He also loved stickers and the iPad.  In the second semester, things were a little tougher than the first semester.  We began using a behavior chart.  It helped so much.
I am not going to say it was easy, because it wasn't, but.... 
 I made a difference in his life and that is what counts.
So... If you are going to have a special needs class and you are feeling uneasy about it, try not to worry.  Take a deep breath and let a calm feeling wash over you.  Know that you will make a difference in your new students' lives by loving them and having compassion on them.
Let your kindness win out in the end.
I'll be right there with you this year as well.
What sparked this blog post was this...Today I got an email from that parent that I have been talking about.  She wanted to know if she could bring B to school to see me.  She said he had talked about me all summer and really missed me.  I have thought about him all summer too and the thought of not having him in my class is heartbreaking.   We are all a little scared about what second grade may hold.  (My friend will be at a different campus next year due to rezoning.)
You see, my little friend B had a very rough time in kindergarten.  He threw fits and hit teachers and was out of control.  I didn't see any of these behaviors.  I believe it is because I just taught with my heart.  I never pushed too hard, but usually got what I wanted.  That is my message here if there is just one message.
You can get what you want without pushing too hard... be patient and watch for the next opportunity to make it happen.  It will....
Thank you for reading to the bottom...I know this was a long post.  I hope you enjoyed it and it helped if you needed help in this area. 
Have a great year!