Our summer program called Summer Learning Place has started. There are 6 teachers and 23 children ages 6-14 who have learning or behavior problems. The teachers are really my students taking a practicum in order to earn a Master’s degree in Special Education. They are having to teach reading, math, writing, and social skills to their class from 8:30 – 11:30 each day for the next four weeks. This course is the final course necessary for them to complete their degree. By teaching actual students, they are able to demonstrate all that they have learned up to this point. This course is instruction by real life experiences and assessment of past learning for the teachers.
I love this program each year because I see it as a challenge. Even though some of the children may return, they have matured and changed over the year. The new students have their own challenges and we hope to help them learn strategies that will help them in the next school year. I also don’t know what to expect from my teachers. Each one comes from a different background and teaching experiences so they may have different ideas of how the classroom should be developed. It is through this experience that they can see that not every situation can be taught in a lecture or textbook.
The first couple of days were spent assessing the child and finding out their present levels of performance. The teachers will use the results to come up with goals and instruction for each child. Every Thursday the parents receive a report about the week and how their child is doing.
On Monday the teachers set up their rooms. It was interesting to see how well the teams got along right off the bat. Sometimes in the past, some teachers’ personalities were so different that they sometimes didn’t find their rhythm until a week or two had passed. This is normal but since we have such a short time to work together, it can sometimes be a strained relationship.
On the first day with children, we had one boy have a major meltdown. He sat in the office with me until he calmed down and then I returned him to class but he had another meltdown so I had to call home. His aunt came to pick him up and asked if he was allowed to return the next day which was fine. Sometimes the first day is really hard for students with disabilities because they are in a new situation with a new routine. After some thought, I decided to move this child to the other classroom where they have two breaks instead of one and the other children seemed more on his level. We also had parents of a girl with epilepsy leave medicine in case she had a seizure. This was in the form of rectal gel! There is no way my teachers or I would be touching any child’s private parts so I called the parents and explained to them that there was no nurse on duty and we would not administer any type of medication.
The second day started off well and I returned the medication to the girl’s parents. The dad didn’t think we needed training to administer it but I insisted that policy insists that training be given when administering medicine. He signed a paper stating we should call 911 if she has a seizure. Then the boy who had the meltdown did well until 11am. Since it was so close to the end of the session, I didn’t call home. The teachers with him did an awesome job. Ms. M took him out and walked him around to calm him down but then tried to return him to class where he threw a major tantrum by throwing his shoes, the trash can and other things, as well as ripping papers taped to the door. Ms. L. did a great job with reassuring the other children in the class and continuing with teaching the class. Ms. M. took him outside and I went out to support her. When he tried to go out the outer door, I had to tell him that was a safety issue and if he went out the door he could not return at all. He stopped but Ms. M. talked him into calming down by counting to 10 and taking 5 deep breaths. When he put his shoes on, she walked him to the car and talked to his aunt.
On the last day of the week, the boy’s dad came in and gave his teachers and me some valuable information on dealing with him. I just wish he had done this on the first day or even emailed me some of this info before we started it. The dad was worried that we would see it as criticism but this was important information!
Over the first three days with children, I would walk past the classrooms and listened to all the interactions going on. I worried that with the major issue going on with the one child that I was neglecting the other teachers but I couldn’t help that. I tried to be visible so they knew I was available for help if they need it. The children were engaged in activities and the teachers were enthusiastic about teaching. I look forward to the next 3 weeks with this group.
Original photos by Pat Hensley