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I was perusing the numerous racks of mother’s day cards recently. As is characteristic of me, my experience jettisoned into a silent analytical observation.  I made mental notes pertaining to the responsibility afforded to a mother. It is a 24-7 job. Mothers must be on call to jump to attention for a whimpering baby with a wet diaper or hunger pangs. Mothers must be on constant alert for toddlers unrolling a roll of toilet paper that he is busily spreading from room to room with the roll unraveling behind him as he gleefully runs.

We are a tough breed who gets attacked with a projectile shot of vomit that lands on our bodies with the force of a speeding bullet. We wipe runny noses with an almost unlimited amount of tissue that seems to be pulled from thin air. We spend years of sleep deprivation from waking at all hours of the night to nurse sick children back to health. We spend the better part of our child’s teen years pacing the floor when our new drivers are past curfew , conjuring all the terrible things that might have happened to them within the confines of our mind.

Through challenges, trials, tribulations, childhood illness, mothers shrug it off and unquestionably support their children day after day. We never notice the first year of life when you smell like spit up, or that poopy diaper that leaked on your lap. If the child is out of baby food etc. we have all made a trip to the store smelling like the latter because our worries about looking presentable are blinded by the needs of our child.

There you have it. All mothers are special, but special needs moms are different. They are humbled, challenged, tough, protective, and cheerleaders for their children beyond the call of duty. They deal with doctors, teachers, therapists, and more who tell them their child will never meet a certain milestone. Milestones that traditional parents take for granted.

A word of caution, never say your child won’t, can’t, never will, or any other phrase which reeks of pessimistic projections for their child. Like a cat, special needs mothers have hidden claws behind their fingernails that will protrude when they are in attack mode resultant from any threat, or negativity aimed towards their child or the child’s mom.

Special needs parents will expect nothing but the best of care for their children. They are not afraid to vocalize and take action until their child gets just that. While other parents seek out babysitters for a weekly date night, many special needs parents silently stay home to care for their child’s demanding needs. It is much more difficult to get sitters for special needs children, and medical, and therapy issues can leave parents financially strapped. While other parents complain that their child did not make captain of the soccer team, these parents merely want their child to make the team and socialize with peers.

While parents worry about their child being popular, special needs parents worry about their child having friends at all. We shuffle our children to numerous therapy appointments, social groups, pediatricians, tutors, and specialists, while managing jobs, homes, and the stares from people in public.

Through it all we realize that we can climb mountains, make it to the summit and down again as we develop determination and strength to fight for our young like nothing else.

Now, back to my story about visiting the card shop. None of those cards appeared to be directed at special needs parents so I am providing my version that I would design for all of you out there.

To A Special Needs Mom   (A Hallmark moment)

Mommies, you always look beyond my disability and see my talents

To you I am a diamond in the rough black on the exterior but shiny underneath

As my daily cheerleader you slowly buff me off to reach the shiny diamond that I am inside

Without you in my corner I would never have made it as far as I have

We have proved doctors and therapists prognosis wrong repeatedly

With you in my corner we will keep proving them wrong

Thanks for believing in me and helping me when others give up

Thanks for showing your love for me every day

Most of all, thanks for being my mommy

Happy Mothers Day Mommy from your special needs child to my very SPECIAL mommy

And from me – I wish all fellow Moms a happy Mothers Day

Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE

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I sit here and ponder a situation that occured two years ago. I believe it would be prudent to share with other individuals as this is a scenerio that all parents and educators have grappled with to some degree. The dilemma of balancing emergencies at home with our professional responsibilities.

Today started off as an uneventful day. The morning program was running extremely smoothly. The children were all compliant. This is a scenario that does not occur too often. As the morning program came to a close I exited towards my car. I retrieved my cell phone. One voice mail was extremely startling. My husband was en route to the hospital. My son had been in a collision and was en route via ambulance. My fight or flight instinct kicked in. I calmly called the hospital and told them I was on the way. The mother I am, conflicted with the educator I function as. I calmly went back into work and told my supervisor my son had been in a car accident.

The supervisor stated that family always comes first. Nevertheless, I informed her that I would try my best to make it back for the afternoon program. My son suffered a mild concussion. My husband was to be home for the afternoon so I knew my son was in good hands. I emailed my supervisor and told her I would be able to resume work in the afternoon. My company was short handed. I knew the only person Site coordinator qualified was my boss. The responsible side echoed in my head. I could not expect my supervisor to cover my position and her own as well. My conscience grappled with my educational responsibility and my personal ones. Although, I opted to shut out my parental guilt, for returning to the classroom it did not mean my son was not in my heart.

Upon returning in the afternoon, my supervisor said “why are you here?” I explained that I felt a personal responsibility to my students and place of employment. My husband would call if the necessitated. As mentioned in class, one must always present a degree of professionalism. The ability of my role as an educator was tested today. My ability to separate personal issues from professional was exemplary. This happened to be a day when the children chose to challenge me. When requested to enter circle time, the children were sitting everywhere but in a circle!!! I calmly joked that perhaps I needed to place tape on the floor like the preschool uses. As school age children, the thought of being equated with a preschooler was a fate worse than death. They quickly formed a perfect circle and circle time was uneventful. Homework support was a challenge.

I managed to assist several children of multiple ages through their homework. My mind secretly wandered to thoughts of my son. I secretly wished for an assistant so I could get homework support done at a quicker pace. I caught my self wandering and refocused on the children time and time again. The jovial demeanor I presented to the children belied my real emotions under the surface. The children were never aware of what I grappled with. I have dealt with the toughest part of being an educator today. This is separating my human side from the educator.

The cohesiveness of my colleagues was also realized. As is probably evident, accepting help from others is not my strong point. I gravitate towards being the helper, not the helped. My supervisor has picked up on this fact. She was helping without being intrusive. She knew I would decline the help. Snack for the children was delivered to my class. I normally pick it up myself. A thank you note for all I do was in my mail box at the end of the day. She organized my class even though that fact was not made public. Having support on the school front makes traumatic times slightly more palatable.My demeanor is calmer. My son is at home. My friends are checking in on him. I know he is safe from mishaps as bed rest has been warranted for a mild concussion.

My program started off with an eventful scenario. A child vomited all over the rug. All first aid was done. Her temperature was taken and I attempted to clean up the room. The child was in tears. I attempted to comfort her with six other children at my ankle. The other children were demanding my attention. Attention that I couldn’t feasibly give at the moment. I attempted to keep judgment out of the scenario. I realized the other children needed guidance as well as the sick child. As much as I wanted to deem them all incorrigible brats, incapable of empathizing for their ill peer, I couldn’t. I stepped back, recalled what it was like to be a child and reminded myself that I responded with the same behavior at their age.

I processed the whole situation while continuing to comfort the little girl. I needed to divert the attention of the other children and keep them occupied. I decided that necessity warrants flexibility. These children were old enough to understand what a special privilege was. They were allowed to play the coveted play station and computer which was generally open for one hour in the afternoon. Children are only given ten minute time slots to play. The children were ecstatic.

Opening their coveted activities in the morning was a novelty. Their focus on the activity was strong. I was now free to give undivided attention to the other child. The child’s mother was called. A voice mail was left as she was not available. Two emergency contacts were working in Boston thus it would present difficulty for them to zoom down and pick up the child. I made a make shift rest area for the child complete with a pillow in a private area of the room. The human side of me was frustrated that the mother had not responded to our phone calls. My mind ran rampant with judgmental thought. As the readings have suggested, educators need to make a conscious effort not to judge a family. The realities of the readings were soon validated.

The girl’s mom responded several hours later. She works at a minimum wage job and did not have the option to check her cell phone messages. The mother rushed in the door and had already called the child’s pediatrician en route to the school. Her face was fraught with concern for her little girl. I silently experienced the feeling of personal embarrassment. I was ashamed for assuming that this woman was being neglectful because she did not immediately respond to my phone call. I broke a cardinal rule of educators. The rule that states we should always look below the surface of a situation. An educator’s role is to assist children towards positive self efficacy. If we let our own bias decide how we handle a situation, it can be deleterious for the child. This child’s mother is attempting to make ends meet for this little girl and her younger sister.

This day played as much of a role in educating me as my course work does. I felt that I was immune to preconceived bias and judgment. Today emphasized the fact that I am as fallible as any of my peers. I have learned to consciously observe situations from the inside out. Not from the outside in. What lies below the surface of any given situation or behavior is more informative to an educator. A well known phrase would be appropriate to emphasize right now. “You can’t tell a book by its cover”.Today my son returned to school driving my truck. I left the house at 5:30 in the morning with a stern warning to him. He was to call me and leave a voice mail on my cell phone stating that he arrived safely. The day was gray and rainy as it was on Monday when the accident occurred.

I kept my wits about me and oversaw a morning arts and crafts session of paintings made from shaving cream, glue, and food coloring. I marveled at the different personalities and how they approached this project with various levels of interest. One child wanted to paint, but does not like to get his hands dirty. He was perfectly content to be involved in the project as long as he could spread the puffy colored shaving cream concoction with his fingers. Another child not only stuck her hands in the contents, but mixed the colors to create other colors.

She not only painted the paper, but proceeded to paint her arms up to her forearm. She than put some of the greenish mixture she developed on her chin and created a beard. I believe children learn through exploration. Every child is an individual who needs to be respected as such. I still make attempts to get children to step out of there box and accept safe challenge. Challenge is a learning experience. If children are not exposed to new experiences their view of the environment remains quite limited. A balance is necessary to assist a child to step out of the box. Too much challenge can reverse the affect of assisting a child in accepting safe risk taking. Too much challenge causes a child to retreat into a shell. I step back and observe. I consciously halt my ability to judge instead of assess. Those are two very different forms of observation.

Assessing can aid in creating a plan that assists a child in positive developmental growth. Judging causes preconceived notions that can breed deleterious surroundings were personalities that retreat verse accepting risk are more common than not. My first inclination would be to assess the child who doesn’t want to get dirty as living in a family of obsessive compulsive siblings and parents. I am truly drawn to the child who spreads greenish shaving cream concoctions gleefully over her arms. As a good educator, I remind myself that the apprehensive little boy is merely shy and cautious. I developed a strategy to help him try new things. He is allowed to spread shaving cream paint with a plastic spoon. I than deposited a small dab of shaving cream on his finger.

I allay some fears by explaining that the dye will not permanently stain his hands. He is than guided towards the bathroom to wash it off with soap and water. The little boy realizes that the color is not permanent. I have gained his trust. The boy actually allows me to make a handprint painting of his hand with the concoction. I am feeling pretty good about my success with the little boy. I have been in a professional world where I shut off my personal life. As I step out the door at work it is like traveling through a time portal. I enter another dimension.

This dimension is called the real world. I flick off my professional persona like a light switch. I now resume my life as a parent. I run to my car and check my phone. No voice mail from my son. I spend the next couple of hours feeling numb. He finally arrives home. I was informed that my son forgot to call me. Words passed between us about consideration. I than realized, my college age son is not much different than the children in the program. He is still learning from experience as the children do. Only at a more advanced level. The children need experiences to grow and develop. Young adults can’t comprehend the fear of a parent who fears for their son when they do not call. Young adults have not yet had the experience to empathize with a scared parent. Without experience we do not learn or understand. I find it funny how educators’ jobs become intermingled with our personal lives. In a standard professional job an office door can be shut and one can forget about the world. When working with children, we are constantly surrounded by questions, demands, and no personal space. When going home to our family, we are surrounded with questions, demands, and no personal space as well. It is quite a parallel existence. An educator’s life never ends.

Mar N. M.Ed., CECE

 

I have attempted to tell a story of my recovery from an ear infection. Every educator has most likely experienced the feeling of teaching when they wanted nothing more than to stay in bed. In this story I was reminded of how the children can teach me a thing or two:-0)

I am finally recovering from a terrible double ear infection that has left me temporarily hearing impaired. I must persevere. My classroom and personal issues must consciously be separated. I silently remind myself of this fact as I balance on one knee so I can hear the children’s requests. In reality, I would like nothing better than to be home in bed. Smiles must be placed upon my face and I feign interest in all the children’s requests. If I can’t do this the children will merely infer that I do not wish to be with them. Despite every day challenges they light up my day. I keep reminding my self that for some of these children, I am the only stability in their life.

I silently decided to remind myself of what my role in this class is. My eyes scanned the room and reminders of the positive influence I have on these children are every where. I eyed the cubbies. My coat had been silently moved to a five year olds coat hook. I had forgotten that she likes our jackets to be hung together on the coat hook so that they touch each other. On the table laid several notes written for me in childish scrawl from the children. One portrayed a brightly colored rendition of me wearing my children’s workshop shirt. Under the picture was a note that said “I like that Miss Mari Cares about us.”Another note said “I am glad Miss Mari is here”. These notes reminded me of how much my effort are noticed by the children. How could one not feel better after seeing these reminders?

The children would soon remind me of the difference betweens an adult’s perception of what is important versus a child’s. Saturday is the day we are celebrating Dr. Seuss birthday party. We are to have an open house at the school of which I am expected to attend. Mountains of Dr. Seuss pencils and erasers sat upon the table in my classroom. They awaited the active participation of my young charges to create 100 goody bags for the party. I gazed at those bags and thought about what an effort it would be to get these children to make goodie bags. The thought of that and doling out green eggs and ham the following morning was not my idea of a rousing experience.

The children surprised me. They reminded me of the dangers of assuming the future with my adult lenses. The children gazed at the goody bag articles and shouted with glee. They sat patiently as I explained how to assemble the bags. We than got down to work.  The children ranged in age from five to eight years old. The younger ones were intent on tying the ribbons on the bags independently. My assumption of a job that would be incomplete at days end proved to be wrong. The bags were finished in one hour! The children had such a feeling of pride on their face.

I was reminded that not all learning experiences lie within my curriculum. There is more to learn than just reading and writing. I learned as much from the children as they learned from this experience. Children that began the project feeling incompetent and incapable of doing the project independently had learned new skills like how to tie ribbons on bags. They practiced sorting skills by placing two pencils, and eraser, and a pencil grip in each bag. What I initially perceived as a drudge project turned out to be an enjoyable experience that taught all involved lessons, including me.

I hope my experience reminds all educators of what an awesome job AND responsibility we have.

Mari N. M.Ed., CECE

Today started off on a pleasant note. I felt like this was going to be a day of smooth sailing. I welcomed my morning class into the room and convened at a table with the children. I always plan a morning meeting where expectations for the class are expressed. My form of expressing expectations is always done on a positive note. I make a point to ask each child how their evening went before moving on to classroom business. As expectations are presented, I remind each child in the room that I have every confidence in them to make the right choice instead of the wrong choice.

I address the children with behavior issues with the same tone I address the others. We must always keep our unconscious perceptions of others in check hence the self fulfillment prophecy does not follow. A child will behave poorly if they know an educator expects them to. Cheering them on reminds the child that I believe in each and every one of them. I was extremely pleased at the amount of self-control a child with behavior issues was using. Any directions were met with a positive response. If I asked her to stop running, she did so.

At nine o’clock I lined the children up to go to the traditional classroom. I moved on to another classroom to assist and went about my day. At 2:45 I entered a classroom to find the class in a shambles. The teacher appeared as if she had been through a war. A little girl had busied herself by putting glue in the other children’s hair. I learned that the little girl had hit the teacher with a ruler and kicked another child in the nose. The teacher was telling me these war stories within the earshot of the mini offender and the child’s peers.

I couldn’t help to think how those negative comments exacerbated the child’s issues. I hold my tongue when observing other teachers as I do not wish to breed resentment between them and me. Resentment between educators trickles down to the children. Children sense the stress and their education suffers as a result of it. Upon taking the children back to my class for the afternoon we had an afternoon meeting. Some children immediately tattled on the other child with glee. One child told me that this child was the “baddest” child in the class that day. I immediately told the children to stop and listen to me. I reminded them all that I abhor the word bad. I reiterated the fact that no child is bad. We make mistakes and misbehave, but are never bad. The word bad is not allowed in my classroom. We may say that someone made the wrong choice instead of a good choice. We never use the word bad to describe someone. I told the children that the teacher had it under control. My intent here was to instill respect in the children towards the kindergarten teacher.

I wanted them to sense that she and I work as a team. If a child knows they can pit teachers against each other the educational experience will be ruined. I suggested that all the children worry about themselves versus taking joy in tattling on others. The children were all informed that they had hurt the offending girl’s feelings by publicly pointing out her problems. I demanded that they apologize to the little girl. They quickly did so in unison. When they realized that their words could hurt a peer they experienced remorse to some degree. The children were all reminded that everyone makes mistakes and misbehaves. I suggested that focusing on our own problems is a full-time job leaving us no time to worry about anyone else’s antics.

I took the offending child aside. Words were chosen carefully and positively. I explained to the child that I was shocked and appalled by her behavior. In reality I had seen it many times. The child was reminded that she was capable of making better choices than she had that day. My goal by using positive statements is to let the child know people believe in her and her capabilities. The child received an explanation of how her infractions had impacted others that day.

I demanded the same thing from her that I demanded from the others, an apology to her peers. I also had her apologize to the teacher for making it difficult for the other children to learn, and physically harming her teacher. She promptly did as she was told. I believe that explaining the reasoning behind rules goes a long way in terms of having the children appreciate why rules are a necessity.

Reflective teaching versus objective teaching can assist educators in the behavioral management realm. My favorite phrase is that a behavior never presents itself without a reason. Prevention, although not always doable always out ways remediation. Usually, the issue has exacerbated by the time remediation is warranted.

Have a great day:-0)

Mari N. M.Ed.

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“Imagine spending several hours everyday in a place where you felt like a nobody.”   What a powerful statement.  The primary responsibility of an educator should be to assure that no child ever feels like they are not worthy contributors in their classroom.  Each child must feel a sense of belonging within the classroom. Learning is not merely the absorption of material by a student. It isa combination of many factors. Class room layout, a child centered class room, positive behavior management techniques, mutual trust, a safe learning environment, lack of bias, cultural sensitivity, and the ability to draw out each child’s special talent to make them feel like worthy contributors.

A class room must have a positive climate. The children must feel a sense of security. The atmosphere must be conducive to taking safe challenges with out fear of ridicule.  A positive environment is the building block in developing a child with the positive self efficacy to take safe challenges. If a child fears shame and ridicule from peers and teachers, they will avoid taking risks to protect themselves from embarrassment. Within my classroom, the environment is structured to encourage positive self concepts. A piece of mirrored paper is placed at a child’s eye level on the wall. Above the mirror is a simple piece of paper that says, “Look in here to see the coolest person in the world”. The children love to stare in that mirror. The intent behind the statement I wrote for the mirror is to remind all the children that look in it that they are valued members of my room. The mirror was decorated by all the children to give them a feeling of ownership. A poster with six classroom rules is displayed on the wall. Below my poster sits rules developed and handwritten by the children. Again, the intent was to have student involvement in rule setting and give the children a feeling of ownership. The learning environment is the most important lens in a classroom.

The learning environment will dictate how well or poorly a child will learn. A major factor in the learning environment is the teacher’s role. Teachers must take their position as a role model seriously.   Through observing role models, children hone skills that well assist their successful assimilation into society. A class room that lacks a teacher that exhibits quiet control will see behavioral issues exacerbate. The outcome will be deleterious.  Structuring a classroom so positive teacher student relationships develop will have a trickle down effect. Positive behavior will appear in venues such as the playground, parental interaction, and socialization with other children. My teaching style is direct. Supply the children with a warm and trusting class room environment. Explain the why, how, and where. Don’t simply order children and respond with “because I said so”. A teacher should be a guide, and fade into the background. The ultimate role should be a coach, not a dictator. I would like to use the development of baby birds as an analogy. The baby bird doesn’t know it is capable of flying until the mother bird pushes it out of the nest. The baby bird is nurtured, taught life skills, and than pushed out of the nest. The bird’s wings flutter. It eventually succeeds in spreading its wings in flight. The mother bird watches from the nest. She doesn’t physically intervene. The mother bird is present, and available if needed.

Mother bird wishes her baby to experience the taste of independence. The baby bird is enabled if the mother bird hovers over her offspring. Figuratively speaking, children learn through the same methods. My classroom is proactive not reactive. Every strategy I employ, from token reward systems, to earning special privileges are developed in the hope of developing internalized self control, and enhancement of individual and group development. Being reactive merely exacerbates behavior problems. Proactive strategies assist the child in evolving into autonomous and mature individuals. I am a facilitator. I have gradually eased responsibility to the children. Reactive and authoritarian behavior breeds a hostile environment. Autonomy is non existent if the teacher attempts to portray a dictator. Power trips have no place in a classroom. In positive structured environment children develop internalized behavior mechanisms. In the fall, a class begins as a teacher lead environment. A good educator should ease into a child centered environment within a couple of months. The path should gravitate from teacher lead, to a classroom of students who are self starters. Children should be involved in decision making processes. These should include but not be limited to, student input in classroom policies, themes for academic units, and roles students will play in development of school projects. Involving children in the choice making process is essential in creating an autonomous class room environment. Prevention is a key component in creating a positive classroom environment that is void of behavior issues.  Build positive attributes, not negative self efficacy.

Developing class room rules as a team, using inclusive social activities, and developing problem solving activities have proven to be an asset to avoiding behavior issues in my class. My classroom is predictable and structured. I follow a rhythm of the day. The children know what to expect. I am open to feed back. Although structured, my curriculum has wavered by taking a class vote occasionally. Respect for individual learning styles, and personalities are nonnegotiable in my class. I demand respect. I model respect, and expect each child in the room to emulate my respectful behavior. Consequences for behavioral infractions are swiftly enforced. As an educator in a multiage classroom, a middle ground was developed. All age groups must benefit. Behavior management must be carried out in a form that the Kindergarten children can comprehend.  Older children must not find my management system demeaning. Management of transition times has been learned through trial and error. Cleaning between activities is rarely an issue.

Through child and error a method was developed. I told the children I was closing my eyes and giving them one minute to clean the room. When I opened my eyes the room was spotless. The children were hiding. I heard sounds of quiet laughter emanating from various areas of the room. All the children were in view. I pretended I could not see them. I pretended to look for them in the toilet, complete with flushing. I looked for them in the sink. I turned the water on and mentioned out loud that I did not see children falling out of the drain. This caused a bundle of distant giggling. I continued my trek through silly areas that would be impossibility for the children to hide in. Hiding spots I searched were cubbies, cups, crayon boxes and more. I finally found my young charges by sneaking up with a loud “boo”. This one time game turned into a ritual. When I tell the children we must clean up in order to move on I am always asked if we can play “the hiding game at the end”. This enforces the idea that many behavior management techniques do not come from a book. They come from taking our students individual personalities into account.

Children learn from educators and educators learn from the students. Observing the children can result in squelching behaviors before they become issues. Accomodations and restructuring the class room environment can squelch further outbursts. If a child resorts to attention getting behavior, giving the child a sense of power can make all the difference. I give the children special chores. They hold clip boards, carry my phone, carry my first aid kit, even help me do a head count. These small chores have given the children a feeling of ownership. That has made a world of difference. Brainstorming during group time enhances decision skills. Each child is given a question to answer. Each child offers a resolution. An example would be why we don’t run in class. I pair older kids with younger ones during this exercise. This creates equality. If the younger child struggles with the question, the older child can assist with the answer.

The main goal is teaching the art of self monitoring behavior. Self monitoring allows the children to evaluate, record, reflect on their own behavior. Discipline is used in my program. I wish to reinforce that discipline is different than punishment. Punishment controls a child. It does not teach how to modify behavior. Discipline is individualized for each personality. Discipline teaches how to identify behaviors, and how to modify them in the future.  An example of punishment is time out. Time out temporarily stops a child in their tracks. This punishment is merely temporary. Taking time to point out how a behavior affected another human being teaches empathy. Consequences for future infractions are discussed during discipline. I always make consequences clear and concise so a child knows what is expected in the future. Discipline should always fit the crime. If a child damages a project others have worked on, I expect them to repair that project. If a child has abused my personal body space rule, the repercussion would me more severe. Tokens and beloved privileges are taken away.  Children are not mini adults.

We need to be the role models who act in a proactive manner. Children are controlled by their emotions. They don’t think of consequences until later. Educators must provide a safe environment where children can hone their skills. My job is to have a part in development of future self sufficient adults, the future leaders of our country.   I must model proper self control for the children to emulate. Children rely on me to show them the way. My mistakes are permanent. White out will not erase my errors.

A thought to ponder:-0)

Mari N. M.Ed.