The VIPs of the Building
Hello Sensory Path Friends! This is Holly, the creator of the Original Sensory Path and current president of The Sensory Path Company! I am so thrilled to finally have the opportunity to sit with y’all and share some of my stories from teaching. This new blog series will be titled “Inside the Classroom.” I want a dedicated space to share all the juicy tidbits I picked up over the 20 years in the classroom. This series will cover the good, bad, ugly, and fun parts of teaching. Serving as a teacher was the greatest blessing of my life. I have several other series that will also be housed under the big umbrella of “Inside the Classroom.” Grab a seat and a snack, we are just getting started! I’ve got so much to share that I am bursting at the seams. Let’s dig in!
First, I’m going to give you a little perspective about where I came from. You might find some of my background similar to yours, while you might have a totally different situation, but keep reading, I generally try to keep it real.
I served as a Special Education teacher to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and/or Developmentally Delayed, all of which were Prek-1st grade! So yeah, not only were they young, but most had never been in a school or daycare environment. They were learning “HOW” to go to school, while also learning the curriculum. And oh yeah, I signed up fully knowing what I was in for!
When I first started teaching Special Education, I did not have all the answers. I did have 11 years of General Education classroom experience, and I had the ability to observe. I watched a veteran Special Education teacher with 20 years of experience. I watched how this teacher worked with her students. It was fascinating to monitor how students responded in different ways on different days.
I learned several things by doing this:
- I learned how NOT to teach or trigger a child into a total meltdown.
- I learned what healthy relationships between a teacher and student looked like and what happened when the student did not feel safe.
- I learned that even though students might lack the ability to express what they are thinking or feeling, they might receptively understand more than you would think. Be careful of how you talk when working with a child, verbal and nonverbal expressions of frustration are being observed and the child might be internally trying to figure you out as much as you are trying to figure them out.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to connect to how the student best learns. Often, some of the best moments I have had teaching is when I have thought and taught “outside the box” to teach or assess what a child is understanding.
Each day began with what I called “Checking the Temp” which meant, greeting each child, placing eyes on them as they entered the building and made their way to the cafeteria to sit with their friends for breakfast. I would watch to see if they were tired, crying, anxious, or “wiggy”… you know what I mean?
Half of my kids rode special buses designated for younger special populations so they would not fall victim to older kids picking on them or being bullied. These buses also had additional adults onboard to monitor behaviors and help with wheel chair bound students. They often could offer information about the kid’s morning before they arrived to school, if they were emotionally struggling when they got on the bus, or if there were any additional family concerns. The other half of my students were car riders, which meant greeting them and walking them into the building to join their friends for breakfast.
We called our Special Education Team the “VIPs” as we got the first table in the cafeteria, closest to the door, to intercept our population of kiddos and hand off each to be supervised by another team member. The “VIPs” were a mixture of Certified Special Education teachers, Speech Language Teachers, Behavior Interventionist, Behavior Techs, and teacher or personal assistants assigned to a child due to mobility/medical issues.
While each general education teacher in the building had an assigned table during the morning breakfast times, their classes would gather, greet and eat and then fall in line to make their way to the classroom as a group, passing by the VIP table where we could add our “friends” to their group when appropriate. Often, we would slowly transition our VIP’s to sit with their peers in this morning social time, to offer moments of unstructured inclusion, so they could develop friendships and bonds with their classroom peers.
Once the bell rang, my day consisted of providing in-service inclusion support or pull-out resource services for one-on-one or small group instruction. I was on the move all day, everyday. But then there would be THOSE days, which meant all hell was breaking loose, and I was called or brought a kiddo that was off the chain behaviorally. The classroom teacher would get fed up because the child would be doing something that disrupted the entire class, or their behavior was causing a disruption and taking away from the whole group, or my kiddo was just being a total monster!
These days are the days that made teaching Special Ed hard, yet, in the long run extremely rewarding. I learned how to “tap in” to why a child is “behaving” a certain way. It’s like figuring out a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces get messed up every day.
Don’t get me wrong: bad behavior happens for many reasons. The key to having success in Special Education is realizing that you are not a lone island. You have to work as a team with other Special Education teachers and assistants, Speech Language Teachers, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, School Nurses, School Counselors, Behavior Interventionists, General Education teachers, administrators and most importantly parents! Check back soon for the first part of our Building Bridges Series to learn more about fostering the necessary relationships with the other faculty and staff at your school.