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10 January 2005: Just Next Door (2 of 3)

Really, the other teachers at my school are the only ones who know already the students Iím talking about or the tone from my principal. Theyíve experienced it for themselves. Together, we can build effective coping mechanisms. While I am so grateful for the teachers at my current site who provide this for me now, there is something about this relationship that just doesnít sit well with me. Itís the relationship by default that makes professional friendships awkward. Even when I had my own cubicle, before I became a teacher, I observed the strangeness of a friendship of convenience. The thing that makes it so powerful in teaching is that no one who is not a teacher can really understand what our days are like. And so, we end up with default friendships; people who teach next door or down the hall, who we maybe have very little in common with except for our work address. But on a daily basis, these friendships are invaluable. Though they may only exist between 8 and 4 or in the hallway during prep, these friendships are often what make the job bearable.

11 January 2005: Just Next Door (3 of 3)

And more than helping me cope, I have been indebted to my current grade level team for helping me grow professionally. Though they are young, they are of the highest quality. And because of their constant pursuit of good teaching, they help me be a better teacher. Take Vygotsky as an example. He said that aside from what you already know, thereís a pool of knowledge or theory that you are ready to understand, with the aid of someone else. Thatís the Zone of Proximal Development. Itís great to consider when planning group learning experiences for your students. Itís the academic theory behind the two-heads-are-better-than-one clichť. But, our students are not the only ones with a zone. We, too, have a body of understanding just one step away. Here again, the value of like-minded colleagues is immeasurable--especially for a new teacher, who doesnít have a lot of experience to draw on, or a non-traditional teacher, who doesnít have a lot of establishment to build on.

12 January 2005: Stories From Full Inclusion (1 of 7)

It's been nearly thirty years now since the law was passed creating "full inclusion" edcuation in my state.

The basic philosophy behind the law is that students considered handicapped in any way have a right to be treated as equal members of a school community. In my own educational experience, these children were often sequestered to a corner of the campus and rarely integrated into the school community. As a teacher, however, I got to see a different approach--I think the current laws use the term "least restrictive environment." This means that any student who has the ability to sit and learn in a classroom with students of all abilitiy levels should have that opportunity.

So, when I found out that I was going to have a full inclusion classroom, I was a bit intimidated. I'd had very little training in strategies for special needs students, and almost no personal experience with handicapped children.

What I did have, though, was an overwhelming love for diversity in my classroom. I was so excited about the prospect of students having one more level on which we could affirm each other's identities. When that year started, I had three students categorized as Severely Handicapped (SH) in my classroom, among the myriad of other ability, race, language, class, and gender groups. As expected, these students brought insight, community and laughter with them.

13 January 2005: Stories From Full Inclusion (2 of 7)

Each of the three SH students had a different diagnosis and a different list of accomodations. With the help of one para-professional aide, as well as two inclusion support teachers, it was my responsiblity to provide these students their fourth-grade curriculum.

It was wonderful. My SH students were as much a part of our classroom community as any other student. They never went without discussion partners, didn't work alone on group projects, and often made positive and valuable contributions to our class discussions.

My belief is that this happened naturally in my classroom because of my personal passion about differentiation. Because differentiated instruction was so pervasive in our classroom, my students knew everyone was getting what they needed. They understood that what everyone needed was different, and no student could compare themselves to another. No student more than Harry could demonstrate this more clearly.

14 January 2005: Stories From Full Inclusion (3 of 7)

Harry was a student with an autism diagnosis. Most of my students were familiar with Harry from previous years, and some had social relationships outside of school. Harry tended to stay quiet and unfocused, relying on an adult to give him assignments in small pieces. I liked Harry immediately because of his eagerness to debate issues one on one, and his love for mysteries.

Midway through the school year, Harry developed a compulsive habit of blowing his nose. The statistics were truly unbelievable--he could blow his nose 40 or 50 times a minute, if he was not distracted by something else. Together with the inclusion support teachers and Harry's mom, we brainstormed strategies to curb this behavior. It was happening so often that positive reinforcement of the lack of nose blowing was impossible.

Although the incessant nose-blowing was distracting to other students, we felt extra pressure because Harry's doctor had expressed concern that he could cause permanent damage to his sinuses as a result of this over activity.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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