Saturday, April 5, 2014

There's the Plan and There's Reality

One of the first things I learned as a new elementary teacher is that you make a lesson plan and everything is great until the students show up.

Now, now. I just mean that you can plan great lessons but when you mix a plan with real kids, things always change. The writer of that curriculum book or blog or activity from Teachers Pay Teachers does not know your kids. (And your kids don't know what the plan says they should do.)

Something I've gotten pretty good at is noticing...listening to the kids' words and behavior...and adjusting what I'm doing. Maybe we will move from place to place to practice writing words with a certain pattern. Or we'll have a drumroll before revealing the answer to an addition problem. Or we'll draw our answers instead of writing them.

Well, I've just experienced this same "plan vs reality" scenario on a grander scale.

Last week was Spring Break. As the break wound down and I contemplated coming back to school, I thought, "Hmm. Only nine weeks left." And I made a broad plan for the rest of the year. Nothing really written down but some broad strokes of what we would do from here on out. I'm more comfortable with the schedule and the curriculum expectations and the wild group of students I have. So I sketched a few changes and plans to carry us to the end of the year.

I thought, "Yeah, I've got this." (Friendly advice: Never think this.)

On Monday, when I opened up the attendance program, a new name was on my list. Hmm. A new student. But no new student appeared that day.

On Tuesday, a parent and child appeared at my door with one of the support staff. "Mr. Wiley, this is your new student."

"I saw your name on my list. I'm so glad to see you," I said. Mom smiled at me and said good-bye to the student. I took her hand and we walked into the room. No other students were there yet.

"Here's your desk," I said. "Now, let me show you where to put your backpack." We walked to the cubbies and she put her backpack in place.

She touched her head and said something to me that I didn't quite understand. She touched my hand and her head again. "Hair," she said. I touched her hair. "I can feel it," I said. "Curly," she said.

She said something else. I thought it was "water."

"Would you like some water?" I asked. She nodded.  I said, "Sure, go get some." Off she went to the water fountain in the room.

Hmm, I thought. Not the type of interaction I usually have with a second grader. I walked to my desk and glanced at the copy of the enrollment form I was given. At the bottom, a single word on the medical alert line. Autism.

This has changed whatever plan I had. My reality has altered. Things are now happening differently in my classroom.

I don't know what those changes are just yet. I don't know all her needs or the best ways to teach her. I don't have the information I need yet. We're trying to get information and work a plan with the EE teacher and other teachers and me.

I will say that it's been a challenging week for me - mostly because I don't know what to do or how to do it at this point. And how to help the other students understand and adjust.

But I know that I am here in this place for this moment to be this child's teacher. That's the reality and that's what we will do.

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