My first reaction when I’m told I will have a student on an IEP in my classroom is panic. Then when I meet the child they melt my heart just like all the cutie-patooties do on Meet Your Teacher Night. Then it is the first week of school and I’m nervous, but things go okay, considering. Then the year progresses and I have to pull up my big girl teacher pants and be an effective teacher in an inclusive classroom. Here are some helpful ways to do that without loosing all your hair.
1. Remember that children are children. They are different and unique. Some will raise challenges, some will be your easy kiddos, but they are children. And all children need love and connections to develop.
image source: http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/23747/what-is-diversity
2. Get yourself some good support. You are going to need to make friends with that teacher down the hall who has her stuff together and frankly, with the one across the hall who is still learning, because the truth is, we’re all still learning. At the very least, you’re going to need to be able to talk to some one at the end of the day after Johnny dumped the entire container of pony beads on the floor and Susie flushed a puppet down the toilet.
You will also need the support of professionals. You are NOT in this alone. You need to be on an interdisciplinary team. Work with your co-teacher, the child’s parents, an early childhood special educator, an inclusion specialist, and any other team members your child needs (ie: speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist.) This team is going to be who shares their knowledge and helps you implement the plans set forth in a child’s IFSP or IEP.
3. Treat yo self….and Teach yo self! In other words educate yourself on your kiddos as they come into your class. If you have a child with speech delay, look into some sign language. If you have a child with cerebral palsy look it up and learn about that particular disability. You will need professional training in some cases, and in other cases, like if you have an English language learner, you might just have to brush up on your Spanish. The important thing, is that you are willing to learn. (also, sorry if you aren’t a Parks & Rec fan.)
4. Be on the look out for teachable moments and facilitate experiences. A teachable moment is when a child is highly motivated and better able to acquire a skill. These moments can be moments that were set up by you. For example, you read the book Mouse Paint and then set out three white mice dolls and color mixing paddles. Some kids will naturally be drawn to the mice and paddles and in their excitement to explore, you can ask what happens when you put the red and the blue paddle together over the mouses fur? You’ve just reinforced what two colors make purple. A teachable moment can also take place during free choice play. You could notice that Sally has put three play cookies on her plate and ask her how many she has. That is an opportunity to help her count. Little kiddos aren’t always going to learn when you are shoving information down their throat at circle time. They are too busy wiggling and wondering what that green speck on the floor is, and oh my gosh Johnny just walked in late, and well you know how it goes. So make sure you take time to interact with kiddos and look for those moments of self motivation and excitement.
5. Be Enthusiastic! Don’t you do this job because even though you come home with green paint in your hair and a googley eye glued to your butt, you love this job and the kiddos!? So let’s show some enthusiasm. When they accomplish something, let them know how proud you are! Even if it is a small accomplishment, they have probably worked really hard to get there. Isn’t it exciting when you’ve been working recognizing letters since the first day of school and Johnny busts out with “Hey! That’s my J!” Don’t forget to let him know how exciting it is that he knows his “J”
6. Be Consistent. Children need a stable and predictable routine. A lot of children come from unstable homes and unpredictable families. Some children may not know where they are going to sleep or if they will get breakfast. You can be their rock during the week. They know that Ms.Flaggle-baggle will be at the door smiling and and saying “Good Morning Johnny! Which table toy do you want to play with this morning?” and give him hug if he needs it that morning. That stability is priceless.The other part of consistency is setting limits and giving clear expectations. You will have to teach your children the limits of the classroom, like “use walking feet,” and then also enforce those limits. When you don’t use your walking feet during free play, you may choose a puzzle and work at the table.
7. Be Flexible. Part of being an effective teacher is know when to bend, improvise, or change up an activity to accommodate a child with a special needs. It’s Monday morning at 9:15am and the class is supposed to be starting their morning meeting, but Sally is missing her mom and having a meltdown by the weather chart. Your consistent routine says it is time to talk about the weather, but now is the time to be flexible. Sally needs a big hug and to know that she is safe and loved. You are most definitely allowed to do that. Bonus: The whole class is already staring at Sally and her crocodile tears, so this might be a teachable moment for some of them. Sally and the rest of the class will get to see that their teacher cares about them, that they are safe, and they are loved.
8. Be Patient. Don’t you want to pull your hair when some one says this, but its totally true. As teachers we have to remain calm in the face of kids pushing all of our buttons and we have to let them learn at their own pace. So remember to stop and take three deep breaths and then keep being patient.
9. Have a sense of humor. You can’t teach young children and be a grouch. Kids are fun and hilarious. Laugh with them and let them know the world is fun. Children learn through play, so play with them! You’ll get your work done and so will they!
Here are some more Tips on Working with a Special Needs Child.
lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah