For students who have exceptionalities, I have learned that collaboration is important. The saying “It takes a village” is exceptionally applicable because of how important it is to involve students, parents, and other faculty in creating a collaborative process for teaching. I learned that inclusiveness means all students, including exceptional students. The idea that special education is a service, as opposed to a need, resonated.
I learned that a “problem student” is actually an “opportunity student,” and that by including a kid who has behavioral challenges, for example, I give my students an opportunity to bring him or her into the community and give him or her an opportunity to be included, rather than “dealt with.” I will have to remember that my instinct to correct a problem or isolate a “disruption” might be better as an opportunity to include.
In my own schooling experience, I recall the students with disabilities that were easily identified were integrated but not included. I wondered if they felt lonely, and I—feeling lucky to not have a disability—did not think about the opportunity I was missing out on by interacting with them more. Teachable moments, I’ve learned, include a lot of social moments.
I feel overwhelmed a little by all the possible exceptionalities I might face as a teacher, and the work that is involved in creating an effective and inclusive classroom seems daunting in ways, especially as the types of exceptionalities change year to year. In this way, I understand that collaboration is important for helping with the workload.
I learned more about teaching practices, collaboration, and communication with parents. Reading, math, writing, and social skills are important skills. I learned how my curriculum and lesson plans must be IDEA and NCLB compliant. I learned about collaborative learning teaching, which is interesting. Peer tutoring methods seem to be excellent learning strategies, I recall tutoring in high school and how it helped me with social skills and also helped me learn the material in a collaborative way. I believe it would be good to integrate this type of learning in my classroom because of the value I immediately see in it.
I picked up some good tips for differentiating or modifying instruction in lessons and activities to help students with exceptionalities for completing their assignments. I was also reminded that exceptionalities are often accompanied by other aspects of diversity, including cultural, religious, and so on.
I understood as a teacher that my role as a teacher requires me to be in more collaborative contact with parents and that the relationship and progress of the student will be more individualized and specific to that student instead of the general way things are done. I also need to remember that the higher expectations in schools are not necessarily applicable or appropriate for students with exceptionalities. I also understand my opportunity to help parents who have children with exceptionalities, and that I can be there for them as well as for the student.
I learned more about autism. I was surprised to hear about the early theories about autism spectrum disorder, having been raised in an era when it was attributed erroneously to vaccinations. I also learned that the evaluation and diagnosis of autism are varied, and not everyone agrees with the diagnosis. I was somewhat aware of this but did not know the metrics and variables that were used for how autism was diagnosed and evaluated. I learned about the modes of communication—receptive and expressive—and how those modes manifest in children as they have language disorders or not.
I have some experience with autistic children, with my parents being friends with a child with autism. He was heavily impaired, and so my interaction with him was limited, but I remember him understanding and repeating patterns of knocks and claps with his dad as a way of “communicating.” I think I better understand communication as a result.
Speaking and listening skills will be important for my integrated classroom, and I think I will need to develop some good lessons that help model good speaking from peer tutoring, though I will need some more guidance and education in the effectiveness of peer tutoring when it comes to speech and language development.
I will have to learn how to communicate with my students better, as I take for granted that I’m fluent and unimpaired. I would like to spend some time in professional development to better learn how to communicate with students with exceptionalities. I don’t know exactly what my role will be in how much dysfluency I must be able to deal with and integrate into my classroom. I am not opposed to such, I just wonder how much training one can get to train the ear to understand dysfluency.
Learning about students with gifts and talents, such as high intelligence, or subgroups such as having high creativity or high areas of intelligence such as interpersonal or spatial or musically, for example. I learned about some of the measures for identifying gifted students with unfamiliar or diverse cultural backgrounds, and the difficulty of identifying students who are gifted as well as disabled, as the disability often masks the other characteristics that would diagnose the student as gifted, as well as the other under-identified populations, such as girls (surprising!) and underachievers.
Planning for a gifted student does not seem as challenging as planning for students with disabilities, though I took to heart the warning that most general education teachers are not prepared for teaching gifted students. I reflected upon this and realized that activities are often diversified to help explain the same content in different ways, as opposed to enriching the activity to challenge and meet the needs of gifted students.
As a student, I did not feel particularly sympathetic to the gifted students because the general schoolwork seemed easy for them, and therefore school seemed easy. I realize now that they, like everyone, had their own issues of anxiety, self-confidence, and self-evaluation. I see the opportunity for collaboration to be helpful for teaching gifted children.