Check in with your students. I teach special ed students…ED, ASD, and ADHD. What just makes the day start out great is talking to each one of them and letting them know that what they have to say is more important than the clock…or the ringing phone…or the attendance person knocking on the classroom door.
For the first ten to fifteen minutes of class everyday students in the special ed program I teach in like to tell me about what they’ve done since I last saw them. I use the first 15 minutes of the day to allow students to get breakfast (and bring it back to our class) and I check in with each one of them. A short greeting or a longer question/answer session happens for each student. It’s the time we use to assess how kids are and how ready they are for the day. It’s probably the most important 15 minutes we spend because if students don’t feel welcome and accepted then they won’t be good learners for the day.
My co-teacher and I will be teaching special education students who are in our alternative classroom for part of the school day. Since we will be using Common Core standards, we felt that it would be important to put those standards into language that the students can understand, that way they can learn to evaluate themselves using concrete criteria.
We want to move away from letter grades and move toward standards-based grading and having the Common Core in language students and parents can understand is an important first step for that.
Here is a link to the chart we created for our students; please feel free to use it and change it as needed: CCStandardsinLaymansTerms
Service learning with middle school students in special education can be a challenge. I teach in a school with 100% free and reduced lunch students and all of my students have significant emotional and behavioral challenges. They always ask me before I take them out to do community service, “why do we have to do this?” I tell them because it is a privilege for the taxpayers to provide them this special school to attend so they should help the community in return. That is usually enough of an explanation for them. They have a hard time focusing and staying on task, but when they get outside they become decent helpers. I know that this is also the beginning of teaching them a work ethic, persistence, initiative, and cooperation.
2 students dig out an invasive tree.
The skills students learn from participating in community service are not the kinds of skills that get assessed on tests, and they are not skills that are part of the Common Core, but they are skills that are necessary for getting along well in the adult world and keeping a job.
I hope that as more and more research is done on reading and writing that we use our common sense about it. It is, in some ways, regrettable that there is so much standardized testing and assessment because it shifts the importance of learning from “becoming a good person in society and making good decisions” to “making sure students meet the standard.” I believe that the research we do sometimes ends up having a negative effect because we see all these things that need to be done and in order to do them we have to hold people accountable so we put qualifications and standards in place that seem arbitrary sometimes. We lose sight of “the student” while nit-picking details and making comparisons. We forget to ask ourselves, “How can society as a whole contribute to making children the best possible people they can be?” Instead we put pressure on teachers to “bring children up to snuff” and we fit them into molds they might not fit into. We blame teachers and wonder why they need more money when they work in a “failing school.” Until we see education as one small piece of child-rearing, of making a child ready for society, then we aren’t going to make huge changes in our population.
We also need to maintain our focus on children as individuals; not every standard fits every child—some children are more emotional than others, some more delicate, some more rigid. Education can’t end up being so “cookie-cutter” that every child is seen as a carbon copy who needs to fit in, meet a standard or otherwise get special help.
Special education costs are rising all the time as we fine-tune and re-assess. Does this need to happen? We’re at a point now where new laws have made it tougher for children to be identified as special education in order to keep costs down—this just makes these children fall behind because they don’t get the help they need early on. I hope in my lifetime that special education isn’t special education anymore—that all education is special, individualized for each child–where smaller schools are set up that meet certain needs rather than having schools like we do now where everyone must fit or be taken out.
Everyone needs a place to belong and if it is quite apparent that school isn’t where one belongs, they’ll find a different place, usually a negative one. A lot of special education can be “cured” by proper teacher training and enough money in education to train and hire the right people for the job. Without a whole community’s support to help children grow and help people overcome their difficulties, then we’re going to continue to blame each other and then wonder why all these great standards, expectations and assessments aren’t making us a more literate nation.
I’ve been having trouble lately getting inspired to write. I’m trying to make writing more of a habit, but work and home often intervene and I usually end up just wanting to watch Criminal Minds episodes on Netflix. But yesterday I had a conversation with a student, similar to countless conversations I’ve had over the last 17 years. He mentioned wanting to be a pro basketball player or a pro football player when he grows up. I asked him what he might want to do if that didn’t happen. He said, “Probably a pro skateboarder.” It emphasized for me, not only the unrealistic expectations that some kids have for themselves (given that they think being a pro athlete is easy), but also on what we, as a society, emphasize as important, respectful, or glamorous.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a student who didn’t want to have more money as a grown-up than they have now. In fact, many of my students want to be “rich.” They see reality TV shows and believe that people get fame and fortune easily. They think being a professional athlete is easy because you just play a sport all day, even if you’ve never played a sport in your life. They think they can go to a city and easily become a RAP artist or famous DJ. They think that kind of glamour means they’ve achieved a certain status. It’s not entirely their fault though. They watch how professional athletes and famous people are treated like royalty and with respect, and they want that too. After seeing how certain professions are treated in the media, who would want to be a nurse, a teacher, a social worker, or any kind of public servant?
My daughter has thought about wanting to be a middle school language arts teacher when she grows up. I love that she wants to enter such a noble profession, but it worries me at the same time. American teachers don’t have the respect of the media. We are poorly paid and told that we hardly work. Our unions are under constant assault from corporations and union busters. We are blamed for the ills of society. Why would I want my daughter to do something that so many people demonize?
I saw an excellent post on Buzzfeed the other day which asked the question: “What would it be like if teachers were treated the way professional athletes are treated?” An excellent question. If you look at headlines and tabloids you will see where America’s priorities are, and it’s not on the education of their children. So when my students say to me that they want to be professional athletes, what they are saying to me is that they want to be rich and respected. It’s what Americans as a whole deem as important, and the message is not lost on the young.