Summer has been pretty great around here so far despite the fact that I'm working two part-time jobs. For one, I really like both jobs - and my ADD likes that just about the time my brain starts to waver, it's time to go home anyway. In the mornings I am working as an assistant teacher (para) at the Extended School Year program within my district. I'm a floater, but I'm mostly in preschool special education classrooms, which I love.
Don't get me wrong, I loved teaching elementary school computers this past year, but I adore preschoolers. And I adore special education preschoolers even more. There is something about trying to figure out what makes them tick - what can you do as a teacher to reach through the Autism or other mental disabilities and turn on that little brain? Is it sensory stimulation? Is it repetition? You're like Sherlock Holmes armed with feathers, a water table, sign language and toys trying to find clues. And when something works and a non-verbal child suddenly utters the word "red" when you're pointing to a red feather, you feel like a Rock Star. You are Super Teacher! Autism is no match for your investigation skills! And then that same child throws himself on the floor and rocks around in a stupor and you're humbled again.
Special Education is so hard. But its so much harder for the parents, and as teachers we try and remember that. We try not to judge when a kid comes to school in a wet diaper - we have no idea what battles that parent was fighting that morning just trying to get out the door. We have to remember that no matter how hard or frustrating our day is - our day with these kids is only four hours long. I overheard a conversation about a mom who was crying to the teacher the other day because all she wants is to hear her child (who is older, so not in the preschool program and has some severe disabilities) call her "mommy." Its never going to happen, probably. And that's heartbreaking.
I'm so lucky. My family's foray into special eduction has just danced lightly around the edges - ADHD and impulse control, mild Sensory Integration Disorder. Things that don't require Sherlock Holmes to figure out - we wear our issues on our chest like a badge for everyone to recognize. Issues that have tried and true methods for moving forward. my kids are bright and smart, and sensitive to the world of special education - because I've talked to them about it and exposed them to it. My 12 year old in particular likes to hear me tell stories about some of my students and comes up with ideas for helping me to reach them - he loves the investigation and trial and error part as well. Although I think his brain is more engineering geared, he may have a teacher inside him, too. And my youngest, given a group of people to be around, like me gravitates toward the little ones. Other moms in the neighborhood are always telling me he's so good with little kids, he's careful and sweet and watches out for them even when playing with his friends. It's in their genes.
I was always drawn to Early Childhood education because I love kids, and I love figuring out what makes them tick. I love seeing that little lightbulb go on - or what I call the "Helen Keller at the water pump" moment. I jumped out of Special Education in college because I had a run-in with a neglect case, and I lost my courage for dealing with it day to day. But I missed it. It took me 20 years of bouncing around the corporate world like a pinball, learning a lot about myself and having fun in the process, but missing that little something that completed me - before I came back to education.
I really look forward to returning to my computer lab in August. But in the meantime, I'm having fun chasing these little people around the playground and tempting them down the slides.