Saturday, January 6, 2018

In Special Education: Love is What Matters Most

   There is one thing that I believe almost more than anything else, special education matters. I have been a special education teacher for 34 years and have never doubted that this career was my calling. Thirty four years later plus the four in undergraduate studies, and I have never forgotten any of the precious children that walked through my classroom door. Each one has offered me insight to the human connection and beyond!
   My very first "student" was Jonathan. He was a four year old autistic boy. I was still in high school. It was believed by Jonathan's special education teacher that he needed more human involvement beyond that given by his parents and teacher. She developed a program to give Jonathan more time to learn about himself and the world around him. She interviewed and gathered five student volunteers who would work with Jonathan one night each. My night was Friday evenings.
Raun and his mom, Suzi.
Raun and his dad, Barry

    We were trained mostly by reading the novel, Son-Rise, written by Barry Neil Kaufman. Barry Kaufman wrote this book in 1976. The year I began working with Jonathan was 1978. Against all odds and all professional advice, Barry and his wife, Suzi, refused to stop loving, trying, or hoping that their son, Raun, would leave the safety of his quiet, autistic world and gradually share his life with their family. Barry Kaufman recorded their journey. Their steadfast love and tireless work ethic gave Raun back to his family. This is truly a story about love, and family. Jonathan's story was about love and family too. Jonathan's parents were devoted to him. They converted their home into a haven where Jonathan could feel safe, happy, and loved. As I entered Jonathan's home, there was a tire swing between the living room and kitchen. It was there that I would greet Jonathan every Friday evening. Jonathan showed me what my calling was. My original plan was to become a registered nurse. Jonathan taught me that there was a different career that I belonged in, special education.

   Early on in my career, I learned that in special education as in all education, love is what matters most. If their isn't love behind what we are teaching then their is little chance that the student will gain progress. Special education requires  tenacity, dedication, and persistence with a foundation of doing what you know is right in your heart. It is not for the weak of heart. A special educator must be gentle, yet firm and fair.  Repetition and routine go a long way in building new skills. Practice really does make perfect!
   There is one thing about Special education that is bothering me  lately. I guess, that this "thing" is happening throughout all of education, really. This "thing" is called paperwork. This is my opinion about that. I believe wholeheartedly in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for special education students. IEPs are after all kind of like road maps that direct teachers and special education providers on the right path when working with new students. IEPs make sure that that students receive all of the services that they need. IEPs protect the child. I also believe in data collection. I believe that the data shows us how the child is doing and takes us to where the child needs to go next. I believe in progress reports, because parents absolutely deserve to know how their child is doing. I even believe in some testing! Again, I believe that tests can be like a road map to tell us where the child and the teacher need to go next! Tests should really be for the teacher to see how well his/her teaching is reaching the students. If the lessons are not reaching the students, then the teacher may want to review his/her delivery style. That's it! This is where I believe the paper work should end except for the occasional incident report or field trip form!  Lesson plans are really for the teacher to guide their lessons. Teachers should have them of course, but should be allowed to write them in a way that makes the most sense to them. Administrators should ask to see lesson plans during observations, but the teacher's creativity and thought process should be allowed to shine on the lesson plans.
   I saw a quote recently from "Kindness is Magic" in Queensland, Australia. "Over-planning kills magic." I agree with this quote! My favorite thing to do is to plan amazing, interesting lessons that make memories for the students! Too much paperwork takes away from the time teachers have to plan highly-effective, creative lessons that are aimed at the student population.Too much paperwork limits the time that teachers have to go above and beyond to do what they love best...create magical lessons! I want to bring the magic and the love back in to education!
   Teaching is fun, and can be so magical! Special education matters. That one "thing", paperwork, matters too, in moderation.  It's important to remember though, that above all however, let us not forget, that every child matters. Every child matters with no judgement;only acceptance. If Barry Neil Kaufman, Raun Kaufman, Jonathan, and all of my current and former students have taught me anything: In Special education, love is what matters most.

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