One of the reasons for my frustration, is that I am forever looking to advance my students along. The current economic and political realities seem bent on thwarting those efforts, and I suspect every teacher feels this way. We want to keep moving forward, but get bogged down by forces beyond our control.
But we still do it and we succeed in spite of public policies, like NCLB. And so it is, I’m blogging the student teacher I said I wouldn’t blog about. Well, this is noteworthy and deserves to be published and promoted!
I have several students who have profound intellectual disabilities, meaning they rely almost totally on caregivers to meet their needs. It’s one of the reasons why the adult:student ratio is so critical. If there isn’t an adult around to meet a need, it is not going to be met. Period. However, any move in the direction of independence is a monumental one, considering that these students are all in high school. If they have not learned something by now, it isn’t likely they will, especially since the adult/student ratio is cut in half as soon as they exit middle school.
But having a capable and motivated adult can really help move things along. In this case, the student teacher has been working with one of my students who has PID as well as being mostly physically disabled. She has to be fed, like most of my students. She can move her hands and arms, but just doesn’t very much. Until now. We started off teaching communication skills, geting her to push a Big Mac switch in order to say “more” meaning she wanted more food. She quickly caught on to this, as eating is highly reinforcing to her.
However, this student did not stop there. At some point the food wasn’t coming fast enough so she grabbed the teacher’s hand and brought it up to her mouth. This was HUGE! We hadn’t seen this before, but then we never had time to look. Feeding time is something we generally do as quick as we can to get it over with, like any other task we have to do. However, we made a break through, past the communication exercise. I showed the student teacher how to hold the spoon and help facilitate more engagement and learning in the feeding and within a couple fo days, the girl was beginning to feed herself. It is still a very sloppy process, but we are off and running!
It’s been awhile since we had a breakthrough like that in our room. It looks downright miraculous. It’s mostly good teaching involving consistency and persistence. And it is also a good shot in the arm for all of us, morale-wise. It will be interesting to see if we can sustain it over the course of the year, even after this student teacher leaves.
Here’s the thing: This is a gigantic leap forward for this one student. Feeding herself with the spoon. It is monumental, significant and practical. But it is not even a blip on the NCLB radar screen. It carries NO weight to anyone outside of this girl’s life. It does not improve a test score, does not improve the graduation rate or any other measure devised to measure “accountability.” It is not something I could use to become one of Georgia’s Master Teachers. The resounding message from the outside is that what we do doesn’t matter, when in reality, what we do totally matters!
But I have no idea how on earth to convey that to the people who make decisions about our staffing. Those folks never darken my door and they miss these miraculous victories. Having key people in the key spots matters, but I don’t get to choose who is in my room with my kids. Sometimes I am very fortunate. Sometimes, less so.
Anyway, I simply had to blog it and make whatever political hay I can out of it. Unfortunately, these things do not happen every day and few times do they happen in such short amounts of time. It’s also good for a new teacher to get this boost very early in her career as those are the memories that sustain us over the longer and leaner times.