Two weeks ago I left a general education fifth grade placement in a suburban school, teaching 43 students. This week I started a placement at Summit Academy, teaching 6, five and six year old students with severe Autism.
My mindset had to change. My approach had to change. My expectations had to change. My language had to change. My direction-giving had to change. Almost everything had to change.
By NO means do I believe the change was bad or negative. In fact, I feel blessed by this change! I now get to experience two very diverse, polar opposite experiences during my student teaching. I get to see the young vs. the older students, general vs. special education, inclusion vs. self-contained, public school vs. private school.
The students in my new classroom are sweethearts. I couldn’t help but instantly fall in love. While they do suffer from some severe behavior difficulties that make it difficult for them to complete tasks and remain focused, I can tell they are innately good children. They want the same things any kids want: love, affection, attention, fun, entertainment, happiness, joy, and so on. I may be new to this classroom but I can already say confidently that the students get all of these things from the adults in the room. Everyone works as a united front, creating a safe, caring atmosphere for the kids.
I can tell I am going to learn an incredible amount from this placement. Today was my first full day with the students and I left feeling as though I had been in the classroom for months! One major difference between a general education setting and a self-contained setting in a special education school is that in a school like Summit, you are with the students every moment of the school day. You go to gym class with them, you help them during lunch, you toilet them, and so on. You spend so much time with them that you can’t help but gather a concrete understanding of their personalities, their needs and wants, and how to best assist them.
I paid close attention today to the ways in which the other adults in the classrooms were doing things with the students and immediately tried to emulate as best I could. I can’t wait to continue learning more and more each day!