Five weeks ago when I walked into Britton, I was pretty sure special education would not be my expertise, but after this experience I'm considering earning a degree in this area. When I used to think of special needs, I assumed that all of these students were the same, and that I didn't have the patience and the knowledge to help them conquer each day by day challenge. After working with these students in a behavior unit, I've learned so much about what special education is, and how a little hope and inspiration can go such a long way for these children. For many students, they don't have the support from peers or even general education teachers to help them succeed, so even a simple congratulations can boost these students to a positive environment. Despite the program special education students are involved in, I now understand how much they really do need teachers, and it's evident that they are all very grateful for the help they receive. Each accomplishment to those individuals is seen as something to be proud of, even if it's simply filling out a worksheet, but those students value their work much more than everyone else. Working with these students has opened my eyes to what education can truly be defined as, for it is not simply teaching material, but it is teaching true qualities that these students would likely never receive without this program. When most people think of special education, they assume that these students are segregated to their own classroom because they can't handle what the other students work on. But, from Mrs. Hart's class, I have learned that this is not the case, for every child should have the opportunity to learn from students who are different then them, whether that is a student on an IEP, or a student without one, everyone can learn from a special education program, so there is no need for students to be isolated form a general education class. Therefore, it is amazing to see the opportunity Britton gives these children every day to accomplish more then the stereotype allots for the individuals, and I'm so happy that I've been able to play a part in their lives.
Every day is an adventure with Mrs. Hart's class, especially during testing week, as these students are on edge after sitting in a testing room for an extended period of time. One of the students, Sophia, has spent lots of time with me, and she seems to respond very well. Every week she has spelling words, that she views as quite the challenge because she doesn't contain the patience. The more I've worked with her, the more I have been able to motivate her to complete her work, and be excited about learning! It's such an amazing feeling to have known that I've helped her succeed even if it was just a little accomplishment. Additionally, all of the teachers in this classroom seem to say that I always turn Sophia's frown into a smile, and that only reinforces my love for teaching, and encourages me to struggle and to help a student attain so much in life. And that's more than any experience Davidson ever could've given me.
Wow. Today was quite the day, and it was such a great learning experience. Students were filing in and out of Mrs. Hart's classroom some on a green card (meaning a good break) and some on a red card (meaning a punishment). One of my students, who has been in our classroom a lot recently, Brian, stomped into the room holding a red card, from hitting two children. Obviously, this is not a good choice and Brian should've never made this decision, but impulse urged him to do so. Once he was calmed down enough, Mrs. Hart worked with him on what he could do the next time he felt like he needed to hit someone. Instead of resulting to violence, he could squeeze his hands together, or take deep breaths until he can think of a better way to handle the situation. But, for that inappropriate action, Brian had to spend the rest of the day in Mrs. Hart's classroom completing his work without his friends. Brian has been diagnosed by the school psychologist with Other Health Impairments. Another student came in the room, Braden, to work on his reading with Mrs. Hart. He has been diagnosed with autism, depression, ADHD, OCD, and a few other challenges, which make it very difficult to stay in class for long increments of time. Unfortunately, he struggles to close his mouth, and sometimes blurts out things that aren't appropriate. For example when he saw a picture of Mrs. Hart another student drew today he shouted, "Not to be mean but-" but Mrs. Hart quickly stopped him, and explained that if you think there's a chance that that remark could be mean, you probably shouldn't say it. It slipped out anyways as he shared, "that doesn't look like Mrs. Hart at all." The poor student was very upset, and it made me realize how much these students cannot control themselves. Once Braden came up with a thought, he couldn't rid it from his brain! And that is a factor that restricts him from having friends. Children with special needs require so much more than how to behave when angry, but they need to understand how to socially be acceptable, and it's so sad that such a sweet kid like Braden struggles to do so much. After Braden completed his work, he received a 5 minute break, which I spent playing with him before I took him back upstairs to his classroom. As I was telling him it was time to leave, he seemed to ignore what I had to say and kept playing, Mrs. Hart contributed trying to get him to listen, and after awhile he finally listened to me. It was difficult because all I wanted to give him was an extra minute to play, but I knew that for him, every minute counts, and he needed that constant redirection to help him succeed. When we reached his classroom, he walked right in heading up to a group of students, but whom both barely made eye contact with him. I know Braden is trying really hard, but he doesn't understand the social boundaries, which made me very pleased for this unit, so that every child has a chance for success. Upon my arrival at Mrs. Hart's classroom, I found, Gage, a child who is emotionally disturbed, wandering around with a bit of anger in his step. He was throwing clothes pins and bothering Brian who was hard at work. When I asked what happened, Mrs. Hart explained that he had to be carried out of his classroom. And when she announced to him that until he acts like a first grader he can't go back to his classroom, anger started to boil out of his ears. He had a St. Patrick's day green beaded necklace in his desk, that he whipped against the desks and the walls sending the beads flying. He was screaming, "I want to go back to my classroom!" And he tried to escape, running for the door, but Mrs. Hart ran out and grabbed him, and had me stand in front of it. I expected her to try to console Gage, but instead just allowed him to throw his temper-tantrum, so he threw chairs on the ground, on top of tables, flipped desks over, threw boxes of paper onto the ground, took the faucet and sprayed the room, screamed, attempted to escape again by pounding on the door, and even lunged for the computers. All he wanted was to destroy the room to get his way, but Mrs. Hart knew that this was not an acceptable response, and ignored him so he wouldn't get any extra attention and think this was a good idea. When it was time for me to leave, he had still yet to calm himself down, but I wish I could've stayed to help. Mrs. Hart texted me later today and told me he had relaxed, which made me happy, but I was still amazed by Mrs. Hart's soothing state during this melt down. I hope one day, I can be half the teacher she is to those children, for it takes so much patience to work with students who struggle so much like her, and it also takes such a kind heart to want so much for these students that she puts up through all of this. That takes someone stronger than most could ever be, and I am so fortunate to get to spend my observations under her wing. Under the special behavior unit, each student is treated on an individual basis, so she handles situations differently among each student. With students who struggle to control their impulses, the demands are much less strict than those who can. For example, the student Brian, who has been diagnosed with Other Health Impairments, must immediately fill out a "think sheet," which basically has the student reflect on the incident, when he or she receives a red card. For a student such as Gage, Mrs. Hart gives them a chance to calm down before any actions are made, and there is likely no think sheet given, only a discussion over how the actions could've been handled more effectively. Brian can handle the think sheet because he has more control over his impulses than Gage. It is important for Mrs. Hart to deal with each student independently, for not every student has the same story, and the way she handles her students is amazing.
Although my teacher works with children of all difficulties, I mainly work with a student named Gabe, who has severe ADHD. He struggles to focus enough to finish his work, and he tends to find himself wandering around and playing with things he should not be touching. But, when we can get him to sit down and focus for the little bit of time he has, his intelligence soars, for he understands concepts that are very complex for a 1st grader, such as fractions. It is evident, that he simply needs someone to constantly point him in the right direction, but as the teacher it is very difficult to constantly apply so much authority over him. All I want to do is have conversations with him and let him release some of that energy, but I know that in the long run that won't help him at all. With most students, it is acceptable for them to wander off a little bit, but Gabe must stay focused the entire time, or else his work will not be completed. Additionally, I work with a student named Braden whose disability has yet to be identified. He struggles to focus once again on the task at hand and is constantly talking or doing activities he should not be doing. When he doesn't want to complete the activity, he starts complaining of being ready to "pass out" or "die" because of thirst. I would immediately let him go get a drink, but Mrs. Hart doesn't budge and encourages him to finish his work faster, so he can then get a drink. It is interesting how these students will do anything to get out of their work, but Mrs. Hart can see straight through it, where I struggle quite a bit to see how authority can help these students. There are so many students that I will get to work with, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to learn with each of them and help them on their journey to success.
Most elementary schools emit smiles of joy as one waltzes in the front doors, but Mrs. Hart's classroom grants feelings of pure excitement, as this classroom is a safe zone for all students. Most of the time, students come in individually to work with Mrs. Hart, to emphasize their necessities in learning. For example, due to the behavioral issues these students are confronted with, their reading and mathematics skills are often compensated because they struggle to focus, and lack the ability to follow instructions. Since the students are not all in her classroom at once, they have to have a different class, where they can go, and that's there home classroom. This is a classroom that is independent of students with disabilities, and includes students who may struggle with reading, or behavioral issues, for students all in the same grade. Often, it is a challenge for those students to remain calm in a classroom environment, so when they need a break, or when they start to fidget a little, they are given a "green card," or a pass to head down to Mrs. Hart's room. Now, to most people that would seem like a punishment, for they are pulled from class, but it is seen as a fun reward. The room is decorated with toys, bouncing balls, a trampoline, and all kinds of fun to keep students from feeling like they're punished for the disability they can't help. It also reminds classmates that there is no shame to work with Mrs. Hart, and that there is nothing wrong with being a little different. When students continue to show inappropriate behaviors, they are then handed a red card to talk about their behaviors with Mrs. Hart, and how the situation should be handled. Therefore, the students learn from the experience, and hopefully will show more appropriate behaviors the next time. Each student has a different story, and there are eleven stories to be told. I have yet to meet all the students, as they come in during different times today, but many of the students who I am familiar with have severe ADHD, are emotionally disturbed, or have other behavior issues that aren't specified. These students generally are bouncing with energy, and struggle to maintain the focus that is required in an elementary classroom, so they find themselves completing their work in Mrs. Hart's room, where they can take quick breaks when needed, work on an individual level, and earn the patience they need. All of the students don't know how to follow instructions, and chatter when the room should be silent, so Mrs. Hart works with them on the time they need to help them succeed. In this program, every child has the ability to succeed. They don't believe that just because the student disrupts the class means he is a bad student or can't learn, but that there is a chance for him to strive.
The Map of the Learning World
Along with me as your tour guide, you'll also find I've added my daily journal entries, or blogs, to help guide you through the learning world. Feel free to check them out!