Nothing Personal

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Guest Blogger: Donine Pickett

Donine Pickett has her degree in education from Concordia University in River Forest, Illinois. She has educational experience through her 3rd grade teaching years in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Mrs. Pickett continues to use her experience and expertise as a mother of three young children.

Teaching Special Needs Children – A Teacher’s Perspective

Every child is unique in regards to personality, learning styles, and more.  Meeting each child where he is can be quite challenging as a parent or a teacher.  I am sure all parents with foster or adopted children realize this each and every day.  As a teacher I struggled with this harsh reality a lot.  I was one teacher, and sometimes there were as many as 29 unique students.  I needed to try to get to know each student personally and then adapt instruction and even basic encounters with the student accordingly.

Two Situations:

How Two Sets of Parents Assisted Me in the Educational Process

As I recall just how difficult but rewarding this was, a couple of students diagnosed on the autism spectrum come to mind.  One of these boys acted out more.  I recall vividly how he ran around a group of desks during math class, trying to engage me in a chase.  At other times he would become very red in the face and would tap his pencil seemingly in defiance and frustration.  The other autistic student I taught a different year was not quite as verbal.  His quiet personality leant itself to potentially getting lost in the shuffle of a class full of energetic elementary students.

These boys were both on “the spectrum.”  They had exhibited some similarities like interacting at a social maturity level about two years younger than their age.  However, each had his own special needs.  With a class full of students I worked to get “personal” to address their needs as best as I could.  Enlisting the help of others became a very important part of this process.

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To help the first student I relied on his parents to help me identify some of his interests that I may not have known about otherwise.  At that time he enjoyed quietly playing with flexible building tiles.  These toys were quite educational too!  Needless to say, I immediately ordered the tiles.  I used this productive interest the child had to develop a reward system for math class.  If the student was able to stick with me without significant interruption during class instruction during math, he was given a break in a special area alone with the flexible building toys.  He was able to work toward and achieve this reward many days.  It also seemed to prevent him from becoming so overwhelmed or overstimulated.  That one seemingly small bit of information from the parent helped me quickly implement a personal plan for math class.

“That one seemingly small bit of information from the parent helped me quickly implement a personal plan for math class.”

With the second student I provided extra attention and support when possible.  Group or peer encouragement seemed to help him greatly as well.  Remarkably, some students have quite perceptive personalities.  They were able to “pick up” on how to encourage the student, include him, or to provide extra help with his work.  His peers and I were not the only ones lending special support though.  I stayed in regular contact with his parents, and they provided a great deal of academic help at home also.  For example, they helped him with memorization activities that helped enlarge his vocabulary.  I was glad to openly communicate with the parents about ways to shorten some assignments for this child since he struggled with verbal skills.  The student did continue to struggle, as third grade is a big transitional year, but lots of people worked together to make sure this sweet student did not get lost in the shuffle.

“…but lots of people worked together to make sure this sweet student did not get lost in the shuffle.”

All children have individual needs specific to them.  Parents and teachers have the very difficult task of identifying and meeting these ever-changing needs.  Sometimes we would do better than others.  At times I had thought about how much easier it would be if I could teach and treat each student the same, as if there was “nothing personal” about it.  Instead we struggle, learn, and strive to improve.  The precious children are worth it.  I remember a parent teacher conference with the parents of the first autistic student I described.  He seemed angry with me at times so I expected that he had quite a lot negativity to express about me at home.  Instead his parents told me that he said, “I love Mrs. Pickett.”  Sometimes the children touch you personally too.

Now It’s Your Turn:

  1. Parents: How much personal attention do you expect a teacher to give to your child? 1 to 10
    1 = My kid needs to survive on their own.  10 = You left my child’s side?!
  2. Teachers: How much information do you want/expect a parent to give you about their child?
  3. What is an educational success story you have seen with a student/your child in the past?

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