Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reflections on 3 students over 4 years... Success!

Monday, June 6th will start the very last week I have as the teacher of the three most energetic, loving, gentle, funny, lovable, smart, and amazing little kids I have ever known.

Because I teach special education, I can't use their names.  But will refer to them as students M, H, and O. (A, B, and C or 1, 2, and 3 just seems too impersonal).  And please forgive me if I give too many details or not enough.  I am already crying while typing...

A little background first-  Four years ago this week, my principal (now retired), another special ed. teacher, and I were sitting at a table discussing the future of special education at our school.  A new "unit" would be started at our school and who would be teaching it?  It was for kids with more intense special needs, and I was running the resource room for kids with LD and other more mild/moderate disabilities.  The other teacher was doing more inclusion and a bit of resource room as well for mild/moderate kids too. 

Suddenly, like a lightning bolt from God, I blurted out, "What if I do it?"

The principal stared at me, and I have no idea what she was thinking at that moment, even to this day.  The other special ed. teacher looked pleased. 

"No, seriously, what if I do it?  Then, she could take my job now, and you could hire or move a 50% person to do the rest."

"Let's think on this," our principal said.  And we left it alone for the remainder of the day.

The next day I went to her.  "I want to take it.  I called the state to see if I could teach in this room.  I can."

I had no idea how these two conversations would change my life for the next four years... And how much I believe that this idea really did come right from God.

Enter today, June 4th.  I'm preparing for my last week with my first 3 students in this "unit."  Other kids have been in the "unit" which we refer to as only "Room 5," but none as long as these three.

They came to me as Kindergarteners, students M, H, and O, and they will leave for fourth grade as my greatest accomplishments in life, the people I am most proud of, the ones who've changed my life like no one else ever could.

Student M.  She came into Kindergarten and I had no idea what to expect.  She was a bubbly, bouncing, happy, angry, smart, sweet, little girl who had one thing on her mind- SUGAR.  My little Student M would run, sprint, push through students or adults, go into other classrooms, scale walls, jump from tables and chairs, or climb up cabinets to get to cupcakes, donuts, or candy.  We would chase after her and needed the help of a behavior/autism specialist who actually told us "I have never seen a student like this."  After we had exhausted her ideas, we did our own FBA with the help of our own school psychologist.

Today, in third grade, my beautiful little Student M still loves her chocolate.  She loves those cookies and ice cream.  But you know what, I have had a bowl of Hershey's Kisses on my desk for over two weeks, and she has not taken even one!  She has asked with full sentences if she could have one, maybe once a day, BUT she has NEVER taken one!


In Kindergarten, Student M would run from adults when they asked her to complete undesirable activities.  She would run to another room, she would run down the hallway, she might even run out the door.  The principal even had to make the difficult decision to put an inside lock on the gym door that led to the parking lot so that my precious little Student M would not run out and get hit by a car.  The lock would at least slow her down.

Today, in third grade, Student M is able to play outside, on the grass island in the middle of the parking lot with us with only the words "Stay on grass please."  No worries of running off, getting hit by car, going anywhere.


And today, in third grade, Student M is learning multiplication.  I never imagined... Four years ago, I never imagined... Comprehending chapter books, using the computer independently, typing, using the iPad, reading independently, following directions, participating in conversations...


These are just a SMALL, SMALL portion of the successes and progress that she's made.  She's amazing. A-mazing.

And she's changed my world. Forever.

Student H.  Wow. 

Student H came to me in Kindergarten with limited interests and lots of self-stims.  He'd trialed lots of "programs" and had lots of tutors and his mom told us then "He hates balls.  He hates sports."  During Kindergarten, when his class did the "Alphabet Chant" and hand movements, Student H would stand and flap his hands and vocalize.  He rarely used any expressive words.  He rarely did anything independently.  He didn't play anything reciprocally and would've preferred to flip cards all day long.  He never protested anything.  He didn't appear to attend to much, and I wasn't quite sure if he was learning anything I was trying to teach him.

Today, in third grade, Student H can give expressive answers that are understood!  He can use his talker to give his responses too!  He can complete up to 20 minutes of work independently that includes using a calculator to solve addition and subtraction problems.  He can read independently and answer comprehension questions.  He can comprehend chapter books on a third grade reading level when read aloud to him.  He can laugh at the funny parts.  He LOVES sports.  He plays basketball and could spend hours throwing and catching a ball outside.  He plays with Play-Doh, Moon Sand, and in the sand table. He uses the iPad and selects the games he likes. He pushes things away that he doesn't like.  He types, spells, labels objects, uses an e-portfolio, counts coins, tells time to the hour and half hour...

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Success!  Success!  Success!

There is no limit to what my Student H is going to be able to do.  He has become my inspiration.  Just when I question a kid... I'll remember Student H... and BELIEVE... because they can ALL learn and they are ALL learning, even if it doesn't always appear that way.

And last, but never least-

Student O.

This kiddo and I had a rare connection from the day he walked into my world.  He was "my guy" and I was "his best teacher" and he would spend every day for the next four years telling me so.  "You my best teacher," he would say, my heart melting.

In Kindergarten, this guy was a little angry.  Writing was hard so he would throw his pencil across the room.  He didn't like his aide so he would throw his shoes at her.  Reading was unnecessary to him unless the cards had pictures of Winnie the Pooh or Dora the Explorer on them.  Math was out of the question.  Playing outside was not a choice.  Sharing toys was an outlandish request.  Student O did what he wanted when he wanted, and then he turned on the charm.  "I so sorry Kolis.  I not do it again.  You my best teacher."

In first grade, my guy refused to use the bathroom at school to have bowel movements.  He would get stomach aches and refuse to go into the bathroom.  "It dirty Kolis."  "I no use the bathroom."  "I no sick."

In second grade, we had to do extensive lessons on personal space vs. social space, touching other kids, asking for hugs, and being more socially appropriate.  "I hug you Kolis."

Today, in third grade, my guy, Student O, is adding, subtracting, counting coins, writing complete sentences, typing, maintaining his own e-portfolio, telling time to the hour, half hour, and quarter hours, measuring, using measurement tools, giving oral presentations to the class, and is still included with general ed. peers for science and social studies.  He reads, he practices sight words, he comprehends chapter books.  HE USES SARCASM and tells jokes!  He maintains friendships with other kids with disabilities AND general ed. peers.  He plays outside and runs outside and even uses bubbles! 

He is "my best guy" and I am "his best Kolis."

Success, Success, Success, Success....

I'm not sure how, at the end of this week, I will be able to pass them on to the fourth grade, to the next district building, to the Central School.  I'm not sure how I will be able to pass their materials on to another teacher, another IEP team, another "case manager." 

I'm not sure that I will be able to say "goodbye."

I know that change is good, and I know that Student M, Student H, and Student O are ready...

But I'm not sure that I am...


Misti said...

What a hard part of your job....letting go. Wish you were coming up with them.

Alyssa said...

wow... as an early internvention teacher for children with autism I am almost in tears reading this.. my little guys are 2-5 and my hopes for them are so high! Reading your post inspired me to remember not to underestimate them ever, even if sometimes the goals seem out of reach! Thank you for this post!

Melanie Broxterman said...

thanks for sharing this...I occasionally get bogged down with all the "negative or difficult" parts of teaching the students with "multiple needs". I love reading the successes. It renews my energy for teaching! So glad I found your blog!

Patrick Black said...

I've been where you are, and it's wonderful and hard all at the same time. Thank you for sharing your successes!

Sped Teacher said...

It's really inspiring to read your post. I am a resource room teacher, and my district decided to open a classroom like this at my school but only for intermediate level kids. I really wish they would do a primary one because I would love to work at it. It's so wonderful to see success with these kids. It so annoys me when my principal can't see past whether kids are going to pass the state test, even when they have disabilities.