In my professional role I have often felt like a fraudster. With little time spent in the classroom actually teaching what can I possibly offer the teachers I am meant to provide advice to? What credibility do I really have?
Oh sure, it's easy for me to say 'Differentiate your plan. Include every learning style in an activity. Make sure your assessment doesn't set anyone up to fail. Teach to their ability'. I am able to offer strategies and suggestions, resources and recommendations, examples and explanations. But where does it come from? Does it carry any weight?
My journey to Special Ed Coordinator has been a fairly standard one I now find out. Girl studies to be a teacher. Girl spends some time in a classroom. Girl gets pregnant. Girl gives birth to a beautiful daughter. Girl's life gets turned upside down with a diagnosis. Girl studies to be a SE teacher. I'm not alone in this path. It happens more often than I used to believe. I used to think I was unique.
From the time my daughter was 2 weeks old I have been emmersed in the world of SE. I used to take my daughter to our local Early Childhood Development Centre, run by Education Queensland. There we were surrounded by an OT, a speechie, an SE teacher, a physio. It is from those amazing ladies that I learned the most important trick of the trade. When you invest yourself emotionally, you make a difference. When you are willing to give your best, to give everything, to see something succed, then you have taken the first step to being a good SE teacher. (There are plenty of mediocre ones out there too).
I have been to so many workshops, professional-development seminars, read so many text books that I have a knowledge bank that even I am sometimes astounded by. I've written so many thousands of words on the image of a child with a disability and the context they grew up in it has become a part of my psyche. I've also investigated the Australian Early Years Framework and the Australian Curriculum to see how they impact on students with disabilities. I've done the groundwork.
In my current role I am working with students of extremely varying abilities, not just across the cohort, but also within each student. For the first time since becoming a SE Coordinator, I am challenged by some of the questions being asked of me. I'm having to come home and read and research again, in order to go into work the next day with an answer. I was beginning to doubt my validity in my role.
This was however, until I took on the role of planning for an alternate program for a student. I believe wholeheartedly in mainstreaming, but each student should still be taught to their ability. I couldn't count the numbers of times I've said 'I know it's more work to differentiate (I actually subscribe to a UDL pedagogy), but it's just good teaching' without having really ever done it myself when I was a classroom teacher.
I have actually enjoyed writing an integrated unit (Eng, Sci, Maths) for a student where each subject draws on content descriptors from DIFFERENT YEAR LEVELS in the Australian Curriculum. I have enjoyed working with the classroom teacher to create a wholistic program which compliments what is being taught in the 'mainstream' class. It's by no means finsihed, but then there's still a week and a half of Easter holidays left, right? :p
I feel validated again. I have been able to apply my theory to practice. I have been able to practice what I preach. Inclusion is not just a buzz word, not merely a possibility, but what every students is entitled to. Inclusion in school, inclusion in the community, inclusion in the workforce.
I watched this video this morning on Facebook, posted by a group called Circle 21. There is not a day that goes by that I don't hope for this, not just for my own daughter, but for all of 'my kids'. The quote from the video that still resonantes: "Even though I have Down syndrome, I see myself as a real person". I work hard every day to make sure my students and my daughter are treated as real people, they deserve no less.
Video: Extra Ordinary