During my first year as a special education teacher, I worked at a project improvement school in a low-income area. I had 15 students with IEPs in 5th grade (mostly boys).
The pressure was on to bring up test scores. One could feel the tension in the hallways.
A big wig administrator was called in to increase test scores and rescue the school from project improvement status. She was a force in a pantsuit and high heels. She didn’t care about beautiful bulletin boards or pleasantries.
During my orientation in her office, I remember her saying that she didn’t want me to respond with “Thank you” to any emails because it cluttered up her inbox.
Despite her commitment to improving test scores she was the only teacher or administrator I have ever known who left right at dismissal every day to go for a run.
I had some interesting experiences that year that shaped who I would become and who I would not become. In all the high stakes test score staff meetings, I learned to value the writings of Robert Marzano. One of the most powerful things he writes is that if 50% or more of students fail in a specific area, it’s the teacher that didn’t teach (Paraphrased from Marzano’ book The Art and Science of Teaching, 2007).
I also learned the power of relationships with even the most emotionally disturbed students.
The best take away from that year was my principal’s insistence on celebrating student achievement.
It is a principle that I incorporate into my planning whenever possible.
Students in special education often make smaller gains over time compared to peers, but each small gain deserves celebrating.
March is a long month wedged between cold season and spring break. It’s ideal for measuring growth and for celebrations!
Some Kindergarteners may learn to point to letters before they are able to state letter names and sounds.
It might take the neediest student 2-3 years to make one year’s growth in reading compared to peers.
For others, learning to write a paragraph independently is akin to climbing Everest.
From lunchtime ice cream parties with special guests to a game of St. Patrick’s Day charades, each achievement deserves celebrating.
March is one of those times for many of my students.
Celebrations conquer discouragement and allow us as educators and parents to compare a child’s growth to where they began rather than comparing them solely to peers.
If there is a child in your life who struggles with learning, look back at September and find an achievement to celebrate with them. I can guarantee it will be easier than finding a four-leaf clover!
© Deb Elizabeth 2017
I’m a wife and mother of two. I write, teach, and advocate for the “Least of These” (Matt. 25:40).
I will only be writing one post per month. During the remaining weeks, I’ll be spending more time developing resources for new special education teachers through a Youtube channel I am developing. Stay tuned for the launch.