Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Warning- Long Post!

My first day in the school was AWESOME! My mentor teacher is great, the students are wonderful, and I am so thankful the Lord put me in this particular room in this particular school.

Back in the spring, when the college was giving me some difficulties about registering/taking classes this fall, I was told I would be placed in a school local to my home. However, when I received my placement letter in early August, I was placed in another town about 25 minutes away. Another girl in my class was placed at a school literally less than 1 mile from my house, and TJ suggested I look into switching with her. I am so glad that I didn't! I told him that the Lord was in control and He allowed this placement to happen the way it did (and TJ knew that, he is just thinking about my upcoming labor).

When I returned to college Tuesday afternoon for my class, we had a support session to talk about/discuss our classroom placements and how the first day went. There are only 8 students in the class, so we are a small group and most of us have been in class together for several semesters. Since we know each other, we are able to talk freely about our experiences and learn from them, which is (one of) the purpose(s) of the course. Anyway, most of my classmates either did not have a good first day OR they do not care for their mentor teacher and how s/he handled certain situations.

I, on the other hand, had a wonderful day and I can't wait to return again tomorrow. My class is made of 5 students who are considered to have a severe mental disability. Working directly next door to my teacher is a friend of mine who I went to college with. He graduated this past May and got hired on in the school. He worked with the same mentor teacher last year, and he has been a huge support for me since he so recently was in my shoes. Plus, he is my age and our kids are similar in age, and he went to school with some people from my church, so we have a lot in common. I haven't seen him in about a year because of our school schedules, so I was excited to see him yesterday. Digressing again. . .

My teacher has an awesome philosophy of education, and it is one that I share (which I think was a factor in my placement because I had to write my philosophy of education and provide 2 copies with my field placement application). She does minimal classroom instruction and maximum community-based learning, meaning everything she teaches the students has a real-life application and purpose. We (the students, my mentor teacher, and I) spent 2 hours yesterday morning delivering a community newsletter to local businesses. It was amazing to see the students working together to count out the number of newsletters to be delivered to each business, one student took the old ones and another put in the new ones. My mentor teacher has an assistant who has been out with back problems. The assistant usually drives the van for the delivery route, but since she was gone, my mentor teacher has been doing the driving. One of the students had to give my teacher the directions because she didn't know it. I was so impressed! He knew the entire route, including turns, all by memory. My teacher is hoping that he will be hired to deliver the newsletters once he graduates next May.

The students also clean rooms at a local motel twice per week. Again, the goal is to train the students so that they can become self-sufficient and do it independently. Once they can, they can potentially get hired and the motel can have confidence in their abilities. Next week the class is riding the light rail line into Charlotte for lunch. My teacher gave me a calendar and invited me to join them on any/all outings I'd like to attend. Once I have the baby, I plan to participate more with the class outside of my normal Tuesday/Thursday schedule because I want to learn as much as I can from my mentor teacher regarding community-based instruction (CBI).

CBI is not a new concept but it is not widely practiced. It takes more long-term planning and creativity than regular instruction. Plus, safety is of course an issue, and some teachers simply are not comfortable leaving school grounds alone with their students. Here is an example of what a classmate saw on her first day at a different school in a different district: the teacher threw some brightly colored bean bags to a boy in a wheelchair who is legally blind but can see color. He scooted out of his wheelchair, got the bean bags, and threw them in a bucket. What is the purpose in that? How will that help him get a job? Be independent? Where is the functionality in that skill? Now, I realize not all people with disabilities can live independently or function fully in society. But, the bean bag toss is also not age appropriate. This student is in high school, not in kindergarten. If the purpose is to help him recognize his colors, there are other ways to do so. I guess that is just my philosophy coming through- education should be functional and age-appropriate. I don't want my kindergarten-age son learning material that is for a high school student, and vice-versa, regardless of ability. To me it is common sense but to others, it's a whole new ideal and one that is not highly regarded. Again, it takes creativity and planning and teaching has enough demands without all that.

Enough of my soap box. I am just so grateful for where I am and excited to be going back. The students embraced me and I am sad that I'll only be with them until Christmas. The semester is going to go by quickly despite all the many assignments and lessons that I have to complete.

Oh, I have to teach a unit consisting of 5 lessons to the students. Any ideas on a topic? I want it to be community-based so I'm looking for something that has a real-life purpose and application. I was thinking of "How to Get a Job" and I could do a lesson on deciding on a place to work, a lesson on applying for the job (filling out the application), a lesson on the interview, etc. What do you think?

*I am thankful for the Lord's divine knowledge regarding this field placement. What an answer to prayer!*

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