I was so proud when I landed my first teaching job—I told anyone who would listen that I was a teacher! I began my career in special education and currently teach in kindergarten. While it hasn’t always been easy, from the very first day, I’ve learned something from each of my students that has made me better at what I do.
Delivering With Dyslexia
Many kids with dyslexia have that “tip of the tongue” phenomenon we all experience. Andy’s parents told me he was struggling to recall vocabulary words, but when given the word, he could recite the definition almost verbatim. This is a word retrieval issue. During assessments, simply provide kids with a word bank. You’ll let them know you are assessing their content mastery, not their dyslexia. Two other strategies for helping kids with dyslexia:
1. Make sure they learn to write their letters and not draw them. Letters should be written in one uninterrupted movement, and most can be formed from left to right, which helps students who struggle with mirror writing.
2. Provide notes. Copying instructions can be fruitless. Kids are writing one letter at a time and not attaching any meaning to what they’ve written.
Adapting to ADHD
During my third year, I taught Kenny. He would not sit still or be quiet, and my nerves were frazzled. Then, I had a revelation: It wasn’t that he wouldn’t do what I asked but that he couldn’t. I told Kenny I would only ask him to sit at his desk or stay quiet but not both at once. So, if I needed him to stay quiet, he was allowed to pace in the back of the room. If I needed him to stay still, he could whisper to himself but not disturb others. This shift in expectations completely changed my classroom and my relationship with Kenny.
Jack is a terrific mathematician. I want to help him realize his potential, and so I individualize his work during guided math time. Rather than simply assigning him more work, I give him work that allows him to extend his knowledge to the next level of the standard. (I use a coherence map for the Common Core standards.)
Strategies for Sensory Issues
Richard was very bright but prone to tantrums. After much work with him, I found there were several reasons he struggled behaviorally. One trigger was whether his shoelaces were tied too tightly. This was an easy fix I could resolve before he had a behavior issue. When he started getting squirrelly, I asked him if his shoes felt right; if they didn’t, I asked if I could retie them, and that fixed the issue. Richard also responded well to weighted vests and blankets, which provided the sensory input he occasionally sought.
Photo: Courtesy of Brian Smith