Recently I was asked to think of an experience that defined the way in which I teach or taught. I came to realize that there are many experiences in my career and life that have probably defined the way I teach or have taught, but one in particular stands out today as I write this. Years ago, probably about 22 or more years to be exact before the phrases Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Asperger's, Spectrum Disorder etc. were an integral part of a teacher’s vocabulary I pioneered an inclusion setting in my first grade classroom and worked with a special education teacher (you know who you are) full time to support those learners who needed a different approach to learning. I realized through my partner teacher that you need to have fun teaching, laugh a bit, enjoy each child for the unique individual that he or she is and celebrate the small milestones as well as the huge breakthroughs.
We started to co-plan lessons that met individual needs and differentiated instruction before it was a “buzz word.” We would think of each child and what was needed to encourage his or her growth as a learner. We had children who did not speak so if they said one tiny word, this was a personal celebration for that child and was what we needed to encourage creating more ways to support the individual needs of students in our class. We bounced balls to learn sight words, wrote sight words and letters on cards taped to the floor and jumped the words, played twisted the words with the game Twister, set timers for focus, had stations to support individual needs, buddy learning, Guided Reading, small group instruction, shared reading instruction, and created active learning opportunities for all aspects of the curriculum and much more! We did have fun coming up with the ideas trying to imagine what it was like to be a 6 or 7 year old and what they might need to stay actively engaged in a lesson or activity.
The realization that these ideas that were developed to support those children who had special needs also supported all children came to light. So, differentiation of learning did not just support children who learned a bit differently, but also supported all children because, as we realized, every child may learn differently and it is our job to figure out how they learn and give them exactly what they need to learn and grow!
As I participated in the walk for Autism this weekend, I realized just how important our job is and also just how difficult it can be. Yes, we as teachers are asked to do a difficult job and many people do not really understand just how difficult that is to do. As a teacher YOU need to remember that you can't change the world…but…if you just do your best, and remember that your best changes depending on your day, then you have done your job! With that being said, you can go home feeling blessed and knowing that you tried your best! Enjoy the Journey…it is yours…make the best of it because some day you will look back and realize you DID make a difference!