My 2 weeks in a Multi-Needs Classroom

I have been working a 7-4 job after almost 4 months of fulltime in-home care-giving. Let’s just say going out into the world was a breath of fresh air but I was unprepared for sleeping and waking on a schedule.

Three weeks ago I was asked to take on a 2-week contract teaching position at a Multi-needs, mixed-age-classroom academy. Unbeknownst to me, the class I was to take on was the most challenging on campus. My class of 7 rivaled my class of 22 at my former school. Their teacher had taken an extra two weeks in addition to the regular holiday break. On day 8 of my 10-day assignment I was told said teacher had phoned to say she would not be returning for the spring term. Go figure! They asked me to stay but I told them the parameters under which I would accept a permanent teaching assignment, especially given the group I had and not having a special needs background. They said they couldn’t fulfill my requests so I walked. I had mixed feelings about my decision because the kids had started to grow on me and I hated to disappoint them yet again, but knowing my own challenges around teaching, I knew my compensation had to match the effort I was about to exert. I bow down to all teachers everywhere but I believe they are never paid what they are worth and I was not about to join their overworked underpaid ranks.

To say my two weeks were challenging was an understatement. I was out of my element; the patience I had garnered during my 4 months of elder care was no match for my 7 students with varying needs from autism to cerebral palsy to behavior challenged, and ranging in age from 12-19. For the first couple days I sailed smoothly, getting them to fulfill their terms of our class agreement. After about day 3 my position as teacher was challenged daily. Two dissolved into instant tears when asked to perform certain tasks or when asked to be accountable for behaving poorly. One resorted to screaming when other students were being unfriendly to each other or when she was asked to spell a word on her own (mind you, she could spell better than I could in primary school and that’s saying a lot for yours truly, former Regional Spelling Bee Champion).  Another stared into the open air and couldn’t formulate an answer when I asked a question but told everyone else what was on his mind the minute I turned my back. Another said “sorry” if I so much as breathed in his direction.

Midway through my second week, I hit the roof. The “aunty-tell-him-to-stop” and “aunty-JJ-beat-me” became too much for me. I ran from class during another teacher’s lesson, went to the staff area, and sat trembling. I had lost control of my class. Everyone would soon know I couldn’t teach! I couldn’t imagine this being my existence. I had struggled to get basic grammar and math concepts across to them and while I was exerting this much effort, all I was getting back was their back-biting and their merciless taunting of each other. I composed myself after journaling for a while and returned when I had my next lesson. I called a “circle time” and told them how they had made me feel. Apologies were instant but since I had seen them in action, I knew better.  I breathed a sigh of relief after this circle time because I knew I only had two more days before my assignment was over.

What did I learn from this experience?

To value teachers even more, especially those in multi needs classrooms.

To be firm as a teacher (when/if I do this again); when I wavered in my authority, they caught on and made me pay. As one of my colleagues said to me, “just because they have special needs doesn’t mean we don’t hold them accountable for their behaviors.”

To value the in-between moments of joy and accomplishment like when my student with cerebral palsy managed to give me a full bear hug without collapsing into me and then into tears for failing. Or when my student with severe lower limb challenges positioned himself so adeptly behind the xylophone and executed a perfect composition.

To not judge before I’ve gotten to know someone; because someone is in a wheelchair or has to sign doesn’t mean they are less than or are any less brilliant than someone who doesn’t present with any challenges.

To remember to marvel at all of the variations in Goddess’ creations. No matter what one believes, I think we are all the work of a fashion designer who has in turn presented us all with our own individual canvases to draw on. Draw away, will ya?!

To my Tanzanite class of 7.

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