Scenes from the Special Education (Transition) Classroom

Episode 1.  Doing So Well

At the beginning of the school year 2011/2012, I visited Robert’s classroom to meet a new teacher’s aide and a new speech pathologist.  At that time, the classroom had THREE  students including Robert.  The  teacher and his two aides were present.   Two students were sitting at the table with one teacher’s aide.  They were playing Connect Four.  Robert did not sit.  Nobody asked him to do anything.  So Robert was running around the table and flapping his hands.  I could not believe it.  Robert could be very  easily redirected.  Even, if nobody wanted to work with him, Robert could at least get a few simple worksheets that would occupy him for a while.  Robert wants to finish his work, he is diligent and thorough. He would work instead of being disruptive.   But no, during the time I tried to concentrate and, despite growing anger, talk to  the aide and a therapist, Robert was not given one instruction.  Nothing!!! Finally, he figured it out all by himself, and sat down, next to one of the students.

But just before he did that, when he was still running and flapping his hands, one person I was talking to said, “He is doing so well.”

I was speechless. It was the beginning of the year and I wanted to be nice.  I did not say anything, but left the classroom completely bewildered.

Episode 2.  Could This Happened to a Student in Regular Classroom?

Two weeks into the school year 2011/2012, I asked the teacher to schedule the time for me to observe Robert in his classroom.  I repeated my request a few times adding that I would also like to see my son’s classroom work.  I asked for that  because no worksheet was sent home.  In the beginning of October, I visited the classroom accompanied by the  director of district’s special education department.  I asked for worksheets.  The teacher was looking around not sure what to do.  A few minutes passed.  I asked again.  Finally, the special education director found a  pile of papers – few hundreds pages thick.  Triumphantly, she showed me the worksheets.  All the pages had Robert’s name written on top.  They were definitely his.  But none of these pages was completed at school.  They were done by Robert at HOME during our daily sessions.  Robert faithfully kept taking them to school to show to the teacher.

For over a month, Robert did not do any reading, writing, or math at school.  There was no science and no  social study either, as those subjects were dismissed as inappropriate for children with special needs by the school administrators from the start of this program.

Episode 3.  Group Instruction

During the school year 2010/2011, Robert had Mrs. S. as his aide.  She worked very diligently with him providing one to one instruction.  She looked for materials, curricula, made copies, and tried her best  to meaningfully occupy Robert.  Nonetheless, one of the main goals for Robert was to learn to work in group, to listen to an instruction given to the whole group, not just to him.  I wanted Robert to stop relying on just one person but being able to be a part of a group, observe other children, and, if possible,  follow their lead.  I sent a few language games to school (From Super Duper School Company) hoping that the teacher might used them and engage other students.  I sent Reasoning and Writing Curriculum to school, and showed the teacher how I used it with Robert  at home.  I explained that there were parts of this curriculum that should be given to the whole group.  The teacher never used it.  Mrs. S. said, that she couldn’t use games with other students, because she was directed to work only with Robert.  So, I asked the main teacher to schedule for me the time to observe Robert during group instruction.  It took more than a month and a few reminders for such observation to happen.  I came, I sat, and I waited for the students to come to the table and work together.  The teacher talked to one student trying to persuade her to sit at the table and work on the soft, vocational skills.  She was reluctant.  He promised her to help her with her college class.  Then he followed another student, telling her that he would “own her big” if she did THAT for him.

I, the mother, witnessed the teacher having difficulties even in assembling a group. I felt bad thinking that my son’s skills might be so below those students’, that a group lesson would be a waste of time for others.
This was not the case.  Although Robert had most difficulties talking and was hardly understood, he was not far behind the other three.  All the students  could benefit from the instruction.  They all could benefit even more if  they were used to such instructions delivered regularly.  It was clear, however, that this was the first and the last group instruction in the school year 2010/2011 in this classroom.


Every observation of the classroom left me concerned and disappointed. Although I knew I should observe Robert regularly, I found that there was a heavy price to pay for each visit to the program.  I insisted on observing, repeated my calls to schedule classroom visits, but was more and more apprehensive about any contact with the school.  Mainly, because I had never seen Robert demonstrating new knowledge or skill. It was  stressful. So, at some point, I asked the teacher (the previous one) , to notify me as soon as Robert learns something new.  I would schedule an observation only when there is something positive to see.

I have never received such notification.

However….(February 23, 2015)

The last four months in this classroom, everything changed for the better. It was as if the lead teacher shook off the magical spell that was imprisoning his creativity, diminishing his skills, and  preventing him from …well, teaching. Suddenly, he prepared great teaching units with well planned field trips at the end of each unit. He understood my son’s needs and was able to adjust a few specific curricula to match my son’s strength and weaknesses. It was an unbelievable methamorphosis.  This was the teacher I always wanted my son to have. If, I however, didn’t write THIS conclusion soonner, it was because I was also mad at this teacher. He became a great teacher and then he QUIT making room for, oh well, that is another depressing story.


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1 Comment

  1. Jean

     /  April 24, 2013

    True for all students – teachers expectations and ability to adapt material for each student is key – especially for unique learners.


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