Sunday, July 18, 2010

LABELS, be gone...

Recently in our community, I've heard there's been some talk about my classroom.

Let me explain.

When I say "my classroom," I always feel that those words encompass many many things. "My classroom" signifies myself, 6 special education aides that come and go throughout the school day, an SLP who also has her own room, an OT and PT who come and go throughout the school week, a Music Therapist who visits once per week, ALL the strategies that the aides and I replicate when all of the therapists leave, along with functional skills to make life easier and academic content standards ranging from grades Pre-K through 3, depending on the student.  Mix all that in with my passion to integrate 21st Century Skills for kids with special needs and you get MY CLASSROOM.

Oh, did I mention that the kids in my classroom have autism, Down syndrome, genetic disorders like Prader-Willi and 2q37 Deletion Syndrome, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, etc., etc., etc.?


Well, I think it shouldn't...

But I keep hearing words like "Self Contained" and "MH Unit."  Other words being thrown around are "CD Unit" and "MD Kids."  "THAT Special Needs Program" and THE "special" program with finger quotes and all...

When I started teaching special education 7 years ago, I always referred to my classrooms as "classrooms" or "resource rooms."  And three years ago, when I began to teach kids with moderate to intensive needs, I knew there was some talk of a "unit."  I was unimpressed with this language and preferred to say "classroom."

I feel like we came to a compromise as a school building and our classroom is simply referred to now as "Room 5."  The teachers know what "Room 5" means.  And, if you have a student in Room 5, you know what it means.  Otherwise, you don't need to know about it.  If you ask, I can tell you what I do.  I teach kids with special needs and help other kids in the building who need interventions.  I teach in Room 5 down the hall. 

I suppose you could make the argument that one of the resource rooms should be "self contained" to be sure that your building is offering the continuum of services, right?  (The continuum of services in Ohio means the Least Restrictive Environment, or the place the child can succeed with the least supports.)  Well, in Room 5, we do offer the continuum.  I have a student who comes to me for only 50% of language arts and is included for the rest of the school day.  I have a student who comes to me for language arts and math, and is then included.  I have a student who comes to me for all instructional areas and is included for music, P.E., and media center.  WE OFFER THE NECESSARY SUPPORTS, so WHY LABEL IT?

I am so passionate about what I do.  I want so badly to help my students be integrated into their own "regular" classrooms (which we call "Room 11," "Room 22," and "Room 19").  

But, if people are still demanding terms like "self contained unit," are we really moving forward at all?

So, I'd like to encourage anyone reading this blog.  GET RID OF THE LABELS.  Call your classroom what it is, A CLASSROOM!  It's a learning environment like any other room in the building.  It's a resource room.  It's NOT A "UNIT."  It's NOT "SELF CONTAINED."

And put the child FIRST.  Don't say "the autistic girl."  Try "the girl with autism."  Don't say "That Downs boy."  Try "the boy with Down syndrome."  The child should come FIRST, not the disability.

Teach kids (ANY KIDS, ALL kids) to empower themselves with words.  "I am NOT a label.  I am NOT a disability.  I am a person FIRST.  And I learn in a CLASSROOM."

For us, it's Room 5. :)


Harold Shaw said...

The importance of labels cannot be understated. Others use them to identify who and where we are in the school's hierarchy of needs.

I agree with you that we need to loose the labels, but I don't believe that it will ever actually happen because it is so ingrained in our culture.

I had some significant questions about the name of my blog Resource Room 220, due to some negative connotations that even Resource Room has for some former students or how it is used by non Special Education staff and students.

I like your suggestion to just use the term Classroom, we are teachers and our students are simply in their classroom. I think that is the appropriate name for our classrooms. We don't need additional labels that can be used negatively by others to describe our rooms or students.


trishpip said...

Amen and amen again. I'm a special ed paraprofessional working in a unique classroom in our district as well. Until about three years ago, the most special of our special needs kids were shipped out to programs out of district. Our classroom was created when the district decided to bring them back in. So we struggled for an identity for a while too. The special ed teacher that I work with could be your psychic twin - about a month into the program she decided that she didn't want to hang any labels on our door - we were simply Room 316. Nice to see the trend we have going here! :)

Misti said...

Love this post! I can see you heart in this. :)