Tuesday, November 29, 2011


There is so much to be grateful for and celebrate, even in these hard economic times.  Here are my top 10 reasons to be grateful that I teach:

10.  I get to meet and know so many amazing families.

 9.  I am able to create a day that works for me and my students.

 8. The moment the “light bulb” goes on and a child suddenly “gets it.”

 7. A plethora of crayon draws, watercolor pictures, and love letters from students decorate the wall by my desk

 6.  I have 10 little faces great me each morning with excitement.

 5.  Meeting with parents at an annual IEP meeting (special education plan) to let the parents know their child exceeded our expectations

 4.  Watching students read to their friends and teachers for the first time.

 3.  Seeing a child stand on stage and sing with their peers after years of being afraid of crowds.

 2.  A parent being able to take their child to see Santa for the first year ever because the child knows how to handle waiting in line, greeting strangers, and sitting with someone in a costume.

1.     The laughter, giggles, and honest things kids say.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Describe It for Me

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to teach two young boys with blindness as well as other disabilities.  They taught me a new way of looking at the world and teaching.  The complications in teaching students with visual impairments or blindness go well beyond the inclusion of Braille.   How do you explain things like space exploration and planets, Native Americans, whales, the circulatory system, evaporation, volcanoes, exploration and discovery, the life cycle of a seed, state history, or solar power?  Suddenly, everything I know about teaching simply wasn’t enough.  I worked with the vision teachers from the district as we talked about each moment of the boys’ day and how to incorporate what I knew about teaching students with cognitive delays with what they knew about teaching students with blindness.  Together we created opportunities for all of the students. 

Though the process, we were seeking ways to make reading fiction meaningful and exciting given the books that their classes were reading in reading groups.  Then, a great gift arrived: an invitation from one of our local theaters to an “Audio Described” play.  I wasn’t really sure what it was or if it would be worth in but figured, why not.  So, permission slips in hand, transportation arranged, we set off.

At the show, we were given a small headset, similar to a Bluetooth headset for each student.  I asked that they let all of the students use one, even those without a vision disability as cool electronics are always desired.  Once situated, the lights went down and I heard a calm voice begin to whisper in the ears of my students.  It told them what was going to happen, what was on the set and what it was really supposed to be, and kept even my most “busy” students engaged.  Throughout the show the action and events were explained as well as the scene changes, costumes, and movement of the actors.  As I watched the show, I watched a group of students understand with the same level of depth as the other members of the audience.  No longer were they focused on understanding the language, facial expressions, costumes, or odd partial pieces of walls or furniture.  They got it! 

Tomorrow, I am again, permission slips in hand, heading to the theater for an “Audio Describe” performance.  There are two a year and the theater helps us work out a date that works with our school calendar.  Tomorrow, we will enjoy “Flat Stanley,” I will enjoy watching the kids receive the gift of language, theater, and magic.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Home of the Brave

Imagine a day when you spilled coffee on the front of your shirt, jammed the copy machine, lost internet access, made several mistakes at work, accidentally insultedd a variety of people, burnt dinner, and washed a red shirt with your white.  Would you consider the day a disaster?  Maybe even a failure?  I would.  Maybe, like me, head to bed confident that tomorrow would be better.  But what if tomorrow wasn't better?  Nor the next day...nor the next...or the next...

Would you keep trying?  How long would it take before you gave up, or became so angry and frustrated that you no longer believed tomorrow would be better.  I don't think I would even make it a full year.

Now, imagine struggling with everything from getting dressed to eating breakfast to telling someone you love them to reading a simple sentence in a favorite book.  These are the struggles of the students with significant cognitive and physical disabilities.  The students that I have the privileged of teaching.

My students arrive each morning with smiles, excitement, and anticipation of the instruction and opportunities for success.  they struggle to read, write, communicate, make friends, count, add, and carry the cafeteria tray without spilling.  They never stop trying.  They could easily consider each day a series of failed attempts.  They could easily quit trying.  Their families and teachers would understand.  Afterall, the have tried for years to do something that their peers could do after only a couple of tries.  They could be angry and frustrated.  We would sympathize.  But they don't.

Sure, they get frustrated and stop trying for a short while.  But they always come back to the task.  They try again, believing, this could be it.  This could be the time they succeed.  Today could be the day they write their name by themselves, answer a question in class correctly, read a sentence, make a friend, or even walk all the way to class by themselves.  They are the bravest people I have ever met or could hope to meet.