I teach Special Education. Most of the students on my case load are classified as mentally retarded; the rest have behavior disorders. All of my juniors this year are MR but academically able to function in collaborative classrooms with support. This means, that as their collaborative teacher, if I'm around to help, they can succeed with some modification in material just like the "regular" kids.
We sat around in my community today and selected the students to earn awards for the end of the year assembly. I campaigned heavily to eliminate the word "scholastic" from the title of Best All Round Freshman, Sophomore, etc. In fact, I told the community they could sit until 9 p.m. tonight if they didn't ditch the word, so they did.
With the idea that the best all round student would NOT need to be the one with the highest grade point average, when we got to nominating the junior student, I sat quietly while my co-teachers went through their rosters and one-by-one eliminated the juniors from contention. "Not working to potential in algebra." "Caught cutting 4th block." And so on. After the 10th or so name, I mentioned my SPED junior who, though reading on a second grade level, had managed through great diligence to earn a 4.0 grade average the first semester and was close to that this semester. Then I made a strong case to select her, even with her academic disadvantage. Every teacher liked her -- and they realized what an honor this would mean to both her -- and her mother. She was selected.
Then we got around to selecting most improved student for each grade level. Again, as we debated the juniors, I waited until most students had been eliminated and I suggested that my student who had come in last year from the disciplinary school in our district but had never even had an office referral this year be selected. Everyone was stunned for a moment; she's a strange little girl but she has blossomed. She's tried hard and she's never given anybody any trouble. She's passing her classes and she's stopped standing in corners or hiding behind doors. She talks to us -- admittedly the conversations are a bit odd, but last year we couldn't get her to open her mouth. Every one of her teachers agreed that she has made remarkable progress.
I am so proud! Two of my juniors are going to be honored in front of the entire school! They are going to appear before all their classmates and receive the highest honor our community can award. What a great challenge for my other students to reach for! We sometimes debate the merits of collaboration as opposed to more isolated resource rooms for SPED students. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, everybody has to agree to try and adapt material and be more flexible. But sometimes, like for these two special junior girls, it works perfectly. What a validation!