May I take a moment to introduce you to a couple of young men you’ll be reading about this year? I may? Why, thank you.
Here’s the bespectacled boy of 7, who keeps his glasses on his face with the use of a brown cord. Speech patterns are not what you’d expect from his age, nor is reading level. He has his moments when he’s a shining star, and he has those where he’s bent at the waist with his head and hands on the tiled floor, using his feet to leg press his desk into the middle of the room, or cutting up post-its and strewing them about. My friends, meet Donald.
And here’s another fine young man, 8 years of age, slightly above average height, width of a toothpick. Reads at one of the higher levels in the class, but still over two years behind his grade. Told me today “I read at home every night so I remember I’m smart.” He also alternates between bursts of inspired engagement/conscientious procedure following and extended bouts of “I have a headache,” “When are we going home?” “I want to go home” “Is it time to go home?” “Are we going home now?” and his own private trips to a special place I like to call La La Land. This, folks, is the esteemed David.
Now, prior to continuing, let me offer this disclaimer. As teaching special ed is a new venture for me, I’ve (not so humbly) been (somewhat) surprised at my (varying levels of) patience with my cherubs. That I write about Donald and David in a tongue-in-cheek way should not make you think that I am brushing their needs off and ignoring them. Instead, it’s a written exploration of one of my mental mantras with this group: “Sometimes, you’ve just gotta laugh.”
Donald and David will probably be linked in my mind all year. One reason is that prior behavioral reports indicate physical issues between the two. And wouldn’t you know it, before I even read about them, I had, in my own unfortunately cosmic way, decided they would be our lines’ cabooses to start the year. (The train went off the rails several times, but we’re improving).
Another connection between the two is that they were the first ones I realized needed to be on some kind of behavior modification program. So each was put in a position to earn a sticker whenever they followed mine or the para’s directions the first time.
My assistant principal, to her credit, knows the kids fairly well, and was helpful in acclimating me to them before the year commenced. She brought up Donald for consideration. I listened to the insight provided me, taking much more stock of it coming from an administrator than a vindictive teacher from the previous year. I knew Donald would require a lot to move forward socially, so I told the AP “We’re going to get there.” I said the same about David.
“We’re going to get there.”
I’ll tell you about Donald first. My introduction to his uniqueness really presented itself as the class stood in line waiting for a fire drill to begin on the second day of school. Donald was on line to start, but before I knew it, he was off, running circles in the gym. How intriguing a challenge! I stood in the middle, hands clasped behind my back, pondering my options. He wasn’t bothering anyone, including me, by the simple act of running through the gym. But, we were ticking down to an emergency situation, where everyone would be expected to evacuate the building immediately.
I told Donald he could run around, but as soon as we heard the bells, it was time to go.
BING! BING! BING!
There went my class with another teacher, and there went Donald. Circling the gym.
BING! BING! BING!
Well, it’s an emergency. I intercepted him with my path and put out my hand to go. He took it and we walked down the stairs. I didn’t say a word to him even as he jumped off the second to last step of every staircase, other than to say “I’m so glad you chose to leave the building.” POKER CHIPS, people. POKER CHIPS.
The next day, I set Donald up with his sticker chart. He began earning them and earning them. Conveniently enough, after his first one, the AP just happened in. I told Donald to tell the AP about the new plan. AP was thrilled to hear Donald say he got the sticker for following directions.
Nineteen stickers and only a few days later, Donald was choosing a SMENCIL!
Now, I don’t pretend that Donald is forever an angel. There are times where he plops himself on the floor behind the desk with his arms crossed in defiance. Who is he bothering? Not me. So if he’s not hurting himself or others, he can ride it out.
In contrast, today he took off his necklace and began helicoptering it above his head – a clear safety issue. I gave him three choices: put it back on your neck, put it in your bag, or put it in my hands. I told him I was going to go set up the next activity and when I came back I wanted a decision. Well, I didn’t get it (unsurprisingly), and that’s when I went to retrieve my mysterious binder from the closet. I scribbled some notes, and as I closed it, Donald stood up to put the necklace in his bag. All I said was “You made a smart decision to put it in your bag so it didn’t break and no one got hurt.”
Also today (today was a bit of a spotty day, come to think of it), I returned from a prep to find Donald laying down on one of our reading bean bag chairs, feet on the wall. He looked pretty comfortable. Part of me wanted to grab the other bean bag chair and do the same. As I was talking to Donald (just asking how he was doing, being nonconfrontational), I noticed what an ABSOLUTE MESS our floor was.
So I said, “Hey Donald, do you think you could go next door and ask to borrow a broom?” Well, he wasn’t sure what a broom was, so I drew it. He still wasn’t sure. So I said, “Let’s go together. We can ask the teacher to borrow one.” I asked him if he knew what she looked like. He didn’t. “She’s got blonde hair,” I said. “Huh?” I liked my answer, “Her hair is the color of the wall.”
He got up and we went next door. He was very hesitant to go into the class of older kids, and was essentially hugging the wall. “Donald,” I said, putting my face up against the wall, “If we ask the wall for a broom, we’re not going to get one!” That slayed him.
This particular teacher was without broom, so we went down the hall to ask a co-teaching team for theirs. We got it. Donald came back, swept the room and let me tell you, that room shined like the top of the Chrysler Building. (He also brought it back by himself).
Last thing with Donald. Today, with our 30 minutes for copying homework and packing, we needed a little 10 minute end of day activity. They chose “Puff the Magic Dragon” (wouldn’t you?). Donald’s desk is right next to my meeting area chair, so he usually chooses to sit there during our use of the area. No big deal most of the time. I’m flexible like that. I figured Donald would like to help me hold the read aloud book and point to the words. Now, remember, this guy is reading on an early kindergarten level, so his word recognition isn’t superb. But there he was, trying to point to each word as I said it, and pointing out the details in the pictures that corresponded to the words. He turned the pages with a poetic flourish, too, I must say.
After reading the book, it was just about time to go home. I knew listening to the song would put us past dismissal time, and I knew they’d want to hear it, so I asked them if they’d like to. Everyone, including Donald and David, screamed in the affirmative.
I put it on. I have to tell you, I would have defied you to not have goosebumps had you witnessed the scene. As we neared the end, Donald, who had been showing the pictures during the song, stood up from his desk and went to the middle of the room. Upon the last refrain of the chorus, with Puff’s new friend finally coming to see him, and Peter, Paul, and Mary rising to a triumphant finish, there stood Donald, book open and held above his head, smile beaming upon his face.
The applause on the CD came for Peter, Paul, and Mary.
And then it came from the class, presumably for Donald.
And like I said before, we’re going to get there.
I’ll post some about David next time.