Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An affirmation...

The current school year has come with many new challenges.  Our new Superintendent began her work with us in July and she came in with a bang.  There is no doubt that our district needs change, but, she really sent us into a tail spin.  We all started this school year wondering if what we were doing in our classrooms were the right thing.  Say what?!  Veteran teachers were beginning to question their pedagogy and methodology.  Greener teachers, like myself, saw this and began to tell ourselves that we had no idea what we were doing and that we definitely weren't going to make it.

No one wants to start the school year that way.  I knew that I wanted to start the new school year on a clean slate and that I wanted to have a great year.  I also knew that with every year I taught I was finding myself as an educator and that I was perfecting my craft.  So, to have these wants crushed before the first day of school seriously put a damper on things.

Today sometime happened that reaffirmed why I had wanted to become a teacher and that I was in fact a good one at that!

Two years ago I was beginning my second year of teaching.  I had been assigned to a new school.  A BIGGER school.  A HUGE school.  A school where I knew no one.  I hate change and I was SCARED.  I walked into school one week before school started and was told that I was going to have a cluster of Autistic students in my classroom and that I had to attend a "workshop" in 15 minutes to learn more about working with them.

The principal left.  I sat in my tiny, bare room and I cried.  This wasn't supposed to be this way.  I only had one year of teaching under my belt.  I AM NOT A SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER!  I CAN'T DO THIS!!!

I didn't know what to do other than cry and to call a former colleague/current classroom volunteer. I cried to her, I told her the situation.  She comforted me, I dried my eyes and I headed up to the "workshop".  Once I found my way to the conference room (this school is so confusing!) I saw two childhood friends sitting there.  I started to feel some relief.  They too were going to be working with Autistic students in their general ed classrooms at other schools.  Both of them had already had some experience with this; I knew I was in good company.

The meeting ended, I found my volunteer in my very empty and tiny room and we got right to work getting that room into shape.  I went home that night and I sobbed in my husbands arms.  He held me and told me that I could in fact do this and that I would be great at it.

The rest of that week I worked on getting my room ready and talked to my friends about working with the ASD students.  I also met the Speech Therapist, the Occupational Therapist and the Behavioral Therapists.  Talk about overwhelming!

Finally, the first day of school arrives!  I am feeling a bit better about things and I finally meet all 20 of those little people.  I see my four students who are part of the cluster.  "Okay, I can do this." I tell myself.  I soon learn that I do not have a paraprofessional assigned to the cluster yet.  Great.  Now what?  Luckily, my volunteer was with me that day and we made it through.  But, not without some challenges.  This is where my friend K comes in.  He was part of the cluster and by far the lowest functioning of them.  He was non-verbal, he couldn't sit on the rug like the rest of the students, he had a lot of stims, his fine motor skills were very limited and he had no academic skills.

Two weeks later I was finally joined by a paraprofessional and she was great!  She had experience working with students on the spectrum and was a tremendous help.  With the help of the para, the speech therapist, the occupational therapist and the behavioral therapists I began to learn more and more about how to teach students on the spectrum.  We made a fine team and by the end of December K was beginning to answer simple questions, sit on the rug with the rest of the students and was beginning to acquire color and shape recognition.  We continued to work hard with K as a team and by June he was able to carry a quick conversation, make eye contact, ask for help, recognize all colors and shapes, write his name and most letters and he was beginning to recognize some letters.  It was decided that he was to repeat Kindergarten and Mom was very adamant that he repeat it with me.

I was over joyed!  I was EXCITED!!  I was PROUD of myself!!!  When September came around K entered like any other student just beginning Kindergarten.  He had the same skill set that they did.  He continued to make huge gains that year and the team continued to work as hard as we could.  By June he knew all letters, letter sounds, numbers, could write his first and last name, could answer complex questions, could read some sight words and could add.  As I watched him get his "diploma" at graduation I stifled my urge to cry.  Although, they were happy tears!  He had come so far.  He did it!  WE DID IT!!

Fast forward to today, in K walks with the para.  He's holding a level 1 reading book in his hand. 
His para announces that he came to read to us.  My volunteer happened to be in today.  We were in luck.  We were going to need tissues.  Lots and lots of tissues.  K sat down next to me and he began to read.  He read every single word in that book.  He needed some coaching every now and again.  But, HE READ THE BOOK!  HE READ THE BOOK!!!!! Tears started to fall from my eyes as I gave him a big hug.  My volunteer rewarded him with two stickers and a hug as well.  I thanked the para for bringing him in to read to us.

That little visit reaffirmed everything for me.  I reminded me that I am a good teacher and that I do know what I am doing.  I feel blessed.  I feel so proud.  I feel like a true educator.

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