Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prepare Them to Fly

If there is one thing you should know about me if you don’t already, it’s that I love teaching Special Education. I could give you a long list of reasons why, but if I could sum it up in one simple statement, it would be this:

Special Education students need an advocate; they need someone to support them, someone to believe in them, and someone to prove to them that they can achieve their goals and be successful. And I love to be this person.  

Every year when my kids enter my classroom in September, they are my students, but I consider them my children. I work hard for them, I look out for them, I invest in them, and I love them. Even the ones who make me want to physically tear my hair out some days. And every year in June, I find myself wanting to stay with them or worrying about them as they transition into 7th grade.  But the reality is, they have to move on, and so do I.

I started realizing that instead of sulking or worrying each summer, my time would be better spent if I felt as though I had given my students the necessary skills to move on without me.

So, I came up with a new unit to introduce to my kids, one that was previously not in place in my building.

A unit entitled: Disability Awareness

The goal is simple: To teach students about themselves. Because for students to be motivated to do well, they need to have some control over their learning. If my students could understand their disability, their strengths, their weaknesses, their learning styles, their IEP accommodations and modifications, then they could become more independent, and better self-advocates. Without me standing in their corner.

But I have to admit, I was apprehensive about this unit. Because I notice one common theme every year in my 6th graders: Most don’t even know they have a disability.

Why is this?  Simply because no one has told them. Either adults think they may be too young for the conversation, or they don't know how to have the conversation with them.

Do I think it’s important for students to know their labeled disability? Absolutely not. But they do need to know what their disability means to them. Particularly for my students in their 6th grade year, and here’s why:

·      Middle School Changes Provided Services
Before 6th grade, most of the services my students received were pretty “incognito” if you will. Many were in Co-Taught classrooms all year, where it became the norm to have multiple professionals pushing into the class and pulling students into various groups. And classrooms are working in isolation so to speak. But in 6th grade, students rotate between classes and different schedules, making it more obvious as to who goes where and for what purpose.

·      Accommodations Become More Obvious
Some students can have the test read to them, some cannot. Some can use calculators, some cannot. And as students start noticing, you hear the dreaded, “That’s so unfair,” as students assume there is some sort of favoritism going on. And it’s very hard to clarify the real reasons in front of an entire class, especially when you are trying to keep student information private.

·      Middle School Maturity
Middle school becomes much more about socializing, friendships, and fitting in. It’s not very “cool” when a teacher shows up to pull you from class, or sits next to you to offer some help. Some kids are downright resentful of the support they receive. Why? Because they don’t want to stand out, and they don’t understand why it’s happening to them. 

·      CSE Meetings
In my district, students are expected to begin attending their CSE Meetings in 7th grade. So what I like to do in 6th grade, is have them attend the very beginning of the CSE meeting just to introduce themselves, say what they liked about 6th grade, what was a challenge, and then they return to class, avoiding the paperwork of the meeting. I think this prepares them to sit through their entire meeting in 7th grade, but again, this is impossible to do if students do not understand what a CSE Meeting even is.

I have had great success with my Disability Awareness Unit in the past few years, despite my apprehension. I found that students, parents, and administration were particularly grateful and impressed with the results. And I feel that now is the perfect time to share, as the end of the year is approaching.

Now that you have the background, Friday’s post will be Part 1 of a 4 post series of my Disability Awareness Unit.

So don’t forget to check back on Friday for Day 1: Multiple Intelligences!


  1. Nicki,
    I think your first few paragraphs were wrote straight to my heart. Some of my coworkers don't seem to understand when I call my students my kids. I am glad I am not the only that feels this way. Love this unit! I think I will try it next year because my babies go to high school and it terrifies me! I don't want them to be a face in the crowd up there. I can't wait to read more
    Have a Great Day,
    Special Teaching in the Middle

  2. I am so glad to hear you could relate to this! I always worry about the kids moving up to the higher grades and getting "lost" as well! I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts and find them helpful in your classroom!