My students graduated from elementary school on Friday. I’m not one prone to getting emotional from formal ceremonies, but I do admit to feeling a touch of pride mixed with sadness that they were leaving me. I felt as if I had demanded a lot from my students over the year, and they had tried their best within the limitations of their own learning challenges and often stressful personal lives.
As I think back over the year, it’s hard to think that I have had much of an academic impact on my students. I think this is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching in a self-contained special education setting: you don’t typically see substantial academic growth. You most likely will not propel student performance on standardized state tests from Level 1s to Level 2s. When all the other teachers get their students’ preliminary test results in June (merely outlined as Met the promotional criteria or Did not meet) and celebrate their successes and mourn the few students who must now attend summer school, I’ve thus far in my teaching experience just sat glumly with a list of mainly ‘D’s (did not meet the promotional criteria). And even as I know that my students have met their own Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and thus have met their modified promotional criteria, it can still sting bitterly. As a teacher who holds myself accountable for my students’ performance, despite the substantial challenges of their learning disabilities and environmental conditions, I know that I am failing my students. I can be a better teacher. I can be more knowledgeable and fluent in all content areas and use more systematic and effective pedagogical practices. I can be more empathetic and understanding of their cultural differences and better build a home-school connection. I should be able to reach through to that one completely unmotivated and aggressively defiant student who I wasn’t able to reach.
Knowing this, I have only one option: to learn from my mistakes and shortcomings and work to become a better teacher.
The successes I can with certainty and pride point to this year might not seem to be very impressive to someone who doesn’t know my students and the challenges they face in their personal lives. This is what I am most proud of accomplishing this year:
- Pressuring the parents of 2 my children to finally (after years of inaction) obtain glasses for them.
- Understanding that one of my students was experiencing severe anxiety when around too many people, and getting his mother to seek counseling for him
- Working with a sometimes defiant grandparent and a medical treatment center to obtain needed medication and therapy for one of my most behaviorally challenging but cognitively capable students
- Making it always clear that I really care about my students
- Keeping them busy at all times
- Not allowing students to disrupt each other’s learning
- Ensuring students learn from mistakes
- Making schoolwork more enjoyable
- Asking questions to make sure students are following along
- Posting and explaining clear objectives for each and every lesson