“Never give up- on yourself, or on students with disabilities, or on those who struggle,”
said one of my senior students with autism, as she was preparing for an anxiety-inducing presentation to students, teachers, and community members throughout our state. Cue my soppy, trying-hard-to-not-let-her-see-me-cry face! (I cannot possibly be the only one who has those crying-teacher moments, right?) This girl is going places, and I am beyond proud!
I am now the Director of Special Education in my small, rural district, but I first really learned about teaching students with disabilities in year 6. Lord knows there aren’t enough experiences in undergrad work (another topic, another day). Yes, I had students with IEPs in previous years, read a lot about differentiation, gave real efforts at inclusion, but I didn’t really learn any monumental instructional strategies worth replicating until I struggled right along with Gary (name changed for this post to the world).
Gary was one of a handful that came into my third grade classroom reading well below grade level, but unlike the others who made progress through my multiple times a day read-alouds, shared reading studies of beautiful poetry, a plethora of choice books, guided reading, books on cd, home-school literacy connections, buddy reading, independent reading, I could go on and on… Gary was my mystery who just wasn’t making progress.
By October, I was already in a panic. I knew he was gaining more minutes of higher-level reading instruction with me than by leaving for his IEP time, so we quickly adjusted that. I knew he had already read through every level A-G reader we had in the school, so I took him with me to our amazing school library to pull his favorites from the shelf and added in a couple new because he trusted my recommendations. But, I knew he did not like to read and was practically sleeping with his eyes open- or sometimes actually sleeping- during independent reading time. I knew he felt embarrassed doing running records and reading aloud to me. Does all of this sound like a non-reader you know?! Read More