Happy National Teacher Appreciation Week, at our school anyhow. I thought this would be an appropriate time to do a little catch-up on Rachel’s year. It was about a year ago this time that we found out she would be a part of the Early Childhood Careers (ECCO) Program in our school district. This is a two-year program where during the first year students go to one of the district’s developmental preschools for classroom and hands on training. During the second year, the students are assigned to a classroom and have more of a student teaching opportunity. Since Rachel was old enough to say teacher she has said she wants to be a teacher. So we all saw this as an exceptional opportunity for her to have some training. We were ecstatic that she was chosen. And yes, she is the first person with Down syndrome in this particular program.
Before I give you the update on her experience, I want to say a shout out to all of the great teachers she has had in her educational experience. I would forget someone if I listed them all, but we have been fortunate to have had really good teachers, both general education and special education. In fact, some of her general education teachers have been the ones who have had the highest expectations and the most “out-of-the-box” and creative thinking. I know that many of you have struggles with teachers, and we have had plenty. I choose not to focus on those; there is much more to be learned from the exceptional teachers! I am thankful for the blessing of our many good educators. Rachel has a little note and some happies for her teachers this week. I hope you are planning something for your teachers. It doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, I think your teachers would appreciate a note from you and your child plenty!
This week is kind of the culmination of the year for Rachel. It is her week to lead storytime . Over the weekend she revived her “Very Hungry Caterpillar” hand puppets.
She practiced over the weekend. I thought you might enjoy these exerts from her practice time. There are two short pieces.
My favorite part is the “unicorn” reference. You’ll need to watch to understand. Tuesday was her day and the report from the job coach was “Rachel did a great job today sharing the story with her puppets. Very enthusiastic and kept the children focused.” She came home with big eyes and her bright smile and very proud of her day.
This has been a positive endeavor for Rachel, the school district and for Jonathan and me for many reasons. While it has been a positive endeavor, it has not been without a few bumps. I hear from many of my readers and parents that seem to think inclusion is easy and measure success by lack of difficulty. No where in my blogs or speeches will you see me say it is easy, but life has bumps for all of us. Yes, I think it is wrong that it is still so hard to make meaningful inclusion work but I think it is worth it.
An unexpected bump was that Rachel doesn’t view this two-hour away from her school building experience as school. She loves her high school, but we didn’t anticipate this being a challenge. Even though she really is only missing five -minutes of passing time between classes, she perceives it differently. This came home to us when we learned she was tardy for the transportation a few times. Rachel is a rule follower so I started my interrogation (I’ve watched a lot of Law and Order.) We discovered that she was troubled that she was having to leave and so she was spending more time socializing before she left. We talked through it and got back on track.
Another bump was when they called to tell me that Rachel was struggling with being the teacher as opposed to being the playmate. I told them that I was not surprised by this because she would need to be taught to be the teacher as opposed to the playmate. We met with all the players to determine how to best support her and help her to grow. Her teacher pointed out that many of the other students also struggle with this concept of teaching as opposed to playmate. Rachel has a job coach in this class so we came up with ideas for what she needed to help her be successful. Simple things like stopping five minutes early to review with Rachel her objectives, what she did well and what she needed to work on. The job coach also sends this to me each day so we can review and reiterate at home. This has been very helpful for Rachel and I think for all of us to know how to support Rachel.
Rachel has grown through this experience. A few weeks ago this was the note sent by her job coach:
“Today Rachel worked in the table toys area. Her goals were to ask open ended questions, allow students to set rules, and to interact but allow students to lead. She might as well stay home the rest of the week because she met and exceeded the goals today! But, please don’t 🙂 We really need her positive attitude and good example! When she got stuck setting up two very difficult games (they are really tough), she did not become frustrated and asked for help. And, she helped the students manage their frustrations! In addition, we have added some new class rules in the last few days, and she took it upon herself to acquaint her classmate and friend, with the new rules, as her friend has been absent. Rachel is a kind and caring friend. On top of that, Rachel has shown true leadership in her cheerful and faithful acceptance of the new policies.”
We could not be more proud. Like I said, Rachel is not the only one who has grown through this experience. We all have. The ECCO program leadership has learned about supporting someone with Down syndrome in a teaching and leadership role as opposed to a child in the program role. Jonathan and I have learned things that will help us in her future employment endeavors.
Rachel loves her teacher. She loves her job coach. She loves the children. We sometimes see them in the community and they run up and introduce their parents to Rachel. She still doesn’t love leaving her school.
A few weeks back she came home and said, “Mommy, being a teacher is hard work.” I told her that yes it was. She went on to say that it was harder to be a teacher than she thought it would be. She said maybe she didn’t want to be a teacher. We discussed and she verbalized that she likes playing with the children at church and VBS, but it is okay if someone else is the teacher. I think this is a big thing for her to figure out on her own. I think it is a valuable part of participating in a program that closely reflects reality.
She has been talking about working in the attendance office at school since she was a freshman. If enrolled in the ECCO program, her schedule would not allow that but now that she will not be doing the second year of the ECCO program, she has room in her schedule. So next year she will be an assistant in the attendance office and possibly the counseling office. I think this is another amazing opportunity for her. In addition to being something she really wants to do, it is a job training opportunity. Jonathan and I think Rachel’s strengths align closely with a job like this. Maybe she can be a courier for a legislator like our friend Elijah Mayfield. She already has a few offers from some Senate and Congressional offices!
I don’t know if she will gravitate back to the teaching children. What I do know is that Rachel is a teacher. She has been one of the best teachers I have ever known and certainly my best teacher for almost 18 years. I suspect she has more teaching to do.