Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Tale of Two Classrooms

I have a new comment on my initial post about Alex Barton. You can read the post from ablp3391 (using your AIM tag is apparently a new way of being “anonymous”, as you cannot email the person or find out anything about them) for yourself, and take whatever action or inaction that you feel would best suit the situation. But such extreme ignorance- an ignorance apparently shared by Wendy Portillo and her school district at Port St. Lucie, as they apparently share the attitude of the commenter- cannot go unanswered here, where I work so hard to help people understand autism and the ways my son works hard to include himself in society.

Allow me to present you a less extreme case of a Tale of Two Classrooms.

When Andy started preschool, we had some very serious issues of sensory integration dysfunction, and as we now know, hyperactivity and attention deficit. He lasted about a week in his first preschool. His teachers had nothing good to say about him, and it was so traumatic for him that we regressed I hard-won toilet training.

Then came Classroom One.

We regained our ground and put Andy back in school with Mrs. Sch. At his new preschool. The school worked better for him because there was a lot more movement required, which he needed, but also because of Mrs. Sch. On the first day, she made clear that she just wanted to get an idea of him, before talking to me. On the second day, she pulled me aside and said, “OK. Is there something you want to tell me about Andy?” At that point I filled her in and told her the recommendations we had from the OT.

Mrs. Sch. now knew she had a child with special needs in her classroom. She listened to me. As the teacher, Mrs. Sch. was the adult, I control of her classroom, with the goal of meeting the needs of her students. She took that goal and duty very seriously, and changed her classroom and her routines to accommodate my child, ad in turn benefited all of her children. They were transitioned properly, had a clear schedule and daily routine, and even tape Xs on the floor to show them where to sit. These things, and all the rest of the adjustments she made over the year when I was able to provide more information, were good for everyone. Andy made leaps and bounds of progress not just in academic-based skills, but also in social skills and attention.

This last year, we had Classroom Two.

Andy was placed with a teacher who, at the last minute, had to be replaced, and we had Mrs. B, a first-time preschool teacher. Mrs. B has the makings of a fine preschool teacher, and I have no real complaints, but the marked difference in Andy was clear. The schedule was not as clearly posted for the students. The circle was not marked. The classroom had a lot of distractions on the walls. The noise level was higher. Transitions were often abrupt. When I provided the recommendations from the OT, I saw no difference in the classroom environment. We may have gained academic skills, but the sensory integration and social interaction pieces showed some regression, and certainly no progress.

Mrs. B was also aware that she had a special needs student in her classroom. Instead of listening to the parents and experts who provided advice and support, even if the school did not, she chose to run her classroom without this help. As a result, we had more days when Andy had trouble, both in school and (more often) immediately afterwards. Some of these problems will easily send Andy to the discipline office when he arrives at Kindergarten.

In looking at these two classrooms, we see what can happen to students who are not given appropriate support by their teachers. The accommodations needed to support social skills can be very simple, and simplifying and clarifying schedules, roles, and expectations is not just good for kids with special needs: all children benefit from having clarity. Also, Andy learns at a pace similar to that of his peers. Our biggest problem last year was that Joey did not- he was learning academic skills faster than his peers. And that interaction thing? No, Joey doesn’t interact the same way as other people do. But with a little support from his teachers, he can make and maintain friendships, and is learning the same way you might, on-the-job.

So, ablp3391, yes, I do find Wendy Portillo responsible for supporting the students in her classroom. If she was finding it difficult, sending him to the principals office was not an appropriate strategy. Listening to parents and doing some research- there are lots of resources out there now for how to teach autistic students- would have been far more appropriate, far more constructive, and far more proactive. Besides, that is part of the job of being a teacher. I know. I am one.


VAB said...

Well said.

Different teaching practices result in different outcomes.

Sally's World said...

we have met so many teachers with so many different views...its confusing enough for kids, all teachers should be aware of what works for each child, individual education plans...

great post xxxx