Teaching Inside Out...The Beginning
Updated: Jun 21, 2022
Social-Emotional Learning is something that has changed my life forever. It is something I never knew I always needed. It is something that I never knew I always stood for. And it is something that has given me strength and companionship with students, teachers, educators, and families across the world.
I was a dance coach, a competitive dance instructor, and then an elementary school teacher before I worked as a district leader. As a teacher, my dance room, my classroom, the time I spent working
with kids, always felt different from my colleagues, different in every single aspect. I never could quite put my finger on it, and I always felt like perhaps it was ME that was different. Was there something that I needed to work on? How could I be better? It baffled me, and I truly struggled. I wasn’t the one that was getting hired to teach full time. I wasn’t the one that had dance teams that were winning the awards, beating out the competition. But my kids, my students, my dancers were always happy, always laughing, always full of life around me. So what was it? Why not me? Why not MY kids? What was I doing wrong?
When I started teaching elementary school, I thought, “Ok, this is IT.” THIS is what I’m meant to be doing. I got to dance around, sing songs, get excited about little things like making leprechaun traps for St. Patrick’s Day, and dressing up as an old lady for the 100th day of school. And I’m telling you, my students were THRIVING.
But the work was hard. Assessments, and deadlines, and the pressure of performing for your principal was so difficult. Looking back, I probably put the majority of the pressure on myself. I wanted our classroom to be AMAZING. I wanted it to feel like the happiest place on Earth. I wanted parents to WANT to have their kids in that room with me year after year, and I wanted my students to be excited to spend the day with me. But it was tough. It was hard. And then I had to do it all over the next year.
Now something that they don’t TEACH you, nor do they even TELL you about, when you’re doing your student teaching, is that you’re going to experience challenging behaviors. You’re also going to have students with special needs in your class...Like REAL special needs. Not just pretend and write about a kid who might need the letters enlarged on their paper for an assignment. I can remember writing about that on one of those tests you have to take in order to get your credential. I mean REAL special needs. Like Autism, like ADD, like ADHD, like Dyslexia, like Anxiety, like Spina Bifida, like Blindness, like TRAUMA. No one talks about the real stuff. No one talks about the reality. No one TEACHES you what to do. And then you go to your interview, and does the principal and the interview squad ask you about this stuff? Of course they do! And what types of answers do they want? I’m telling you right now, the things THEY are doing to help these kiddos is NOT helping them. Putting them outside in the hallway? Not helping. Having them go into another classroom to talk to a different teacher and listen to a 5 minute lecture that’s supposed to be a pep talk? Not helping. Begging the principal, psychologist, or Specialized Academic Instructor to get an aide in the classroom to sit with a kid? NOT helping. Or how about keeping them in from recess? That’ll really help. Or sending them up to the principal’s office? Nope. And this is a great one too...Having them write over and over that they won’t do something or that they’ll improve their behavior next time? I mean, haven’t we gotten past this?
I’m not perfect. I for sure have done the majority of those things that I just made you feel awful and shameful for doing. I did it to. Probably too many times. But the reality is, no one taught any of us what to do. We’ve tried things like PBIS and Check In Check Out, and while all of these things are great and useful tools, they DON’T WORK. They don’t work for anxiety. They don’t work for Dyslexia. And more often then not, they will not take the Autism or the ADHD out of a child. I’m just saying.
So what’s the answer? What do we do?
Let me go back to my classroom. It was different. It was always different. It was happy. We were a community. Did I lay down the law? Absolutely YES. But my kids, ALL my kids, THRIVED. Even with the ADHD, and the blindness, the Dyslexia, and the Autism.
I remember one day, a Special Ed Coordinator walked into my first grade classroom and said, “I wish more classrooms felt like yours.” And I can remember looking at her and asking, “What do you mean?” And at the time, I had a woman in my class who was an aide for one of my kiddos, and I remember the two of them looking at each other and the aide said, “I KNOW.”
Was it a compliment? Yes. But I truly didn’t know how to take it. It was weird. What was I doing that was so noticeably different from my peers and colleagues? And seriously, WHY hadn’t my principals that I had worked for in the past ever said anything to me about it? And why in the WORLD did it take me forever and a day to get hired as a teacher if it was all so awesome?
Ok, now I know everything happens for a reason. And that you can’t be grateful for things all the time when they come easily. But this road, this road was ROUGH. It was a freaking terrain. The craziest trip all over the Grand Canyon, and a ride that I can’t even believe I survived. But for real, what doesn’t kill ya, makes you stronger. Cue the Kelly Clarkson song right now.
So the reality with teaching is that full inclusion is real. You are going to have kids in your class with Autsim, with ADHD, with ADD, perhaps blindness, anxiety, dyslexia, spina bifida, the list can go on and on. And it’s your job to create an equitable and fair environment to support ALL your students. Well, what’s equitable and fair for one kid is not fair for another. If I know that little Johnny will absolutely NOT participate in a small group if the group doesn’t research and write about dolphins, do I force him to join a group that’s working on penguins to be FAIR? Am I going to avoid teaching him how to react and interact with his peers because it’s easier for me to avoid the chaos that could ensue if I had him work on a different topic? Do I force him, let the disaster movie start to unravel, and then let him scream and run out of the room? And then am I going to have to call the front office or evacuate my classroom because now he’s tearing down the walls? What do you do? What’s equitable? What’s fair? And what’s fair to ME? I don’t have the skills to deal with the crazy that might come to be.
So many of our teachers feel THIS way. And they’re lost. It’s exhausting. Running through these situations in your head is exhausting. And oh boy, when the chaos actually happens in real life? Oh yes, now THAT’s exhausting.
But here’s the deal. These kids, ALL kids need us. They need us to TEACH them social and emotional skills, just like we needed someone to teach US how to deal with their behaviors. And we need to stop EXPECTING them to just know what to do, just like how I’ve stopped expecting schools, districts, and families to know how to support their kids. We all need help. And instead of expecting that everyone knows what they’re doing, and that what they’re doing is fair and equitable for their kids, I’m here for you. I’m here to TEACH you.