Sunday, October 21, 2012

Welcome to Holland

    As a means of establishing rapport with parents start with trying to understand them. You will encounter many different types of parents.  What is important to remember is that none of the parents you meet dreamed of having a special needs child. To better understand what this experience must be like I share with you "Welcome to Holland" by Emily Perl Kingsley.

Avoid the Seven Year Curse

     The average shelf life of a special ed teacher is seven years.  Call it perseverance or stupidity I am beginning my ninth year in the field.  In that time I have learned a lot!  While I recognize we all enter our classrooms armed with learner outcomes to teach, benchmarks to reach, and agendas to guide us I think each of our main goal is to SURVIVE!  For the beginning teacher there are some very simple guiding principles that will help you endure those early days when you first realize your college professors were off the mark.
  1. Relationships first!  Establish rapport with your students and their guardians.  Throw all your strategies for classroom management and teaching out the window.  Truth is strategies are kooky and the students see it.  Students will put forth more effort and buy into those strategies only after they feel you care.  Regardless of their I.Q. they recognize if you are genuine.
  2. Don't take personal responsibility for their actions (good or bad)!   Yes you are there to teach them and yes you are there to manage their behaviors, but you didn't create the problem.  Remember all behaviors are taught and for each year a child has been allowed to perform a behavior it may take a month to extinguish that behavior.  Processing, problem solving, retention, generalization, and attention problems weren't created by you either.  Any gains they make in regards to their behavior and cognitive functioning required more effort from them than it did you.  You are merely the facilitator they are ultimately responsible for their own actions.  If you take ownership of the bad you will stay emotionally drained and accelerate the possibility of burn out.
  3. Don't let reasons become excuses!  Each of your students will have a label.  That label will be given to them by a diagnostic team and come with a long integrated report.  In that integrated report you will find every reason under the sun that justifies their label.  Those reasons create gaps but don't let them become excuses.  It is a matter of perspective.  Take for example that student in the back of the room who is constantly tapping his pencil on his desk and distracting those around him.  He has ADHD.  Will you allow that to become a reason or an excuse?  If you view it as the reason you may decide to move him to a more preferential seat and give him a menu of less distracting fidgets to choose from.  Thus, empowering him to still get the stimulation he needs from movement but not allowing him take away from others.  ADHD will always be a part of that student.  Allow him to develop socially appropriate coping skills for his disability. Should you perceive his ADHD label as an excuse you may think it is just how he is and I can't fix it!  If you allow him to seek out the stimulation for himself in any way he sees as appropriate he may overstimulate himself and distract from his own learning process.  Or there's that student who can not learn her basic multiplication facts.  The reason is she has an I.Q. of 63.  Is that a reason or an excuse?  If perceived as a reason you may realize she needs information chunked and much more practice than the typical student.  If you perceive her I.Q. as an excuse this concept is too challenging based on her ability level.  She will always struggle with multiplication.
  4. Laugh and laugh a lot!  Laugh even when you think that laughing at the circumstance will cause you to have a special place in Hell.  Remind yourself special education teachers have an automatic pass into Heaven.
  5. Show up!  When you are positive that you are not making any gains with your students and all your data is proving that you are the worst teacher ever; SHOW UP!  Keep coming back and keep trying.  If your perseverance never teaches them to solve for x at least it showed them your cared.  In this field that is more than most people have ever showed your students.