Monday, November 17, 2014

There Is More Than Meets the Eye

Post by Joe Newcomb: Joe is in his 3rd year of teaching special education (Level II BD) at BHS. You can follow Joe on Twitter @jnewcomb32 

From the time I began my college education, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and coach. What I did not know is where I would end up or where I would have my first opportunity to help make a difference in students’ lives.  After graduating from Cornell College with an endorsement in Physical Education, I quickly found out how difficult it is to find a job in the education field.  I moved to the Quad Cities to be closer to my then, fiancĂ©, and began substituting in a couple of school districts. 

After subbing throughout the 1st semester, I felt like I was creating relationships and connections with people at several different schools.  I was hopeful that I would be given an opportunity the following year in some sort of teaching role.  However, one early December day my phone rang asking if I was interested in interviewing for a Special Education long-term substitute position.  I told the person on the other end that I was and that I would be there to interview next week. At the interview, I learned more about the position and learned that it would be in the area of working with students with behavioral needs.  Knowing very little about the field of special education, in particular BD students, I was nervous, but excited to begin my teaching career. 

When I was asked to substitute in this role, I knew this job would be different.  I had no idea what to expect when I walked through the doors on day one after the holiday break, but I quickly learned how similar this job was to any other teaching job.  As I walked into the self-contained classroom, I was greeted with questions and looks of confusion from the students in the classroom.  They wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.  As they slowly warmed up to me and we were able to break the ice by talking and getting to know one another, I learned how they were similar to all of the other students in the school.  The students I worked with wanted to be cared about, connected with, and given a reason to buy into school.  Many of them had not been given a reason to like school or want to be in school for several years.  Although most of these students want to succeed in school, it is very difficult to help them succeed because these students require more time to create relationships with others, particularly with adults.  I learned this the hard way as a couple of the students refused to talk to me or give me a chance to get to know them for several weeks.  These few students continued to observe my efforts to help them in the classroom and with controlling their emotions.  After several days, they opened up to me and gave me a chance.

After being in this role for almost three years, including my long-term substitute time, I have learned an incredible amount from the students I encounter every day.  I have learned that every student wants to have success on a daily basis.  While some students may never vocalize that they want to be successful, it is the times that they are successful that you see that these students want to perform well.  When a student struggles to complete academic school work, pass classes, attend school on a daily basis, or show respect to the adults in the building, one moment of success in one of those areas of struggle can portray the student’s pride or happiness as they learn that they can succeed similar to their peers.  While these successes may be days or weeks apart for some students, I still have comfort in knowing that they can and will achieve success which keeps me upbeat and excited to come to work on a daily basis.  I have also learned that growth for each student can be different on so many levels.  While we all want our students to be successful by passing all of their classes, attending school each day, and staying out of trouble, I have been lucky enough to see and understand that success for one of my students is different from the success of other students.  For my students, success can be determined by the amount a student goes to class, how often a student arrives on time, or passing at least one class each quarter.  Although success for each of my students appears to be different, I have learned that growth on a consistent basis is the most important aspect of helping my students increase their successes.  With that said, growth from the students I work with may not be easily seen from those who do not work with them on a daily basis.  At times, I am even guilty for not recognizing the improvements my students have made.  However, unlike others, I have the benefit of reflecting back on past experiences with my students and can then identify how each of them has grown.

As I look ahead, I have no idea what my future may hold as an educator, person, husband, or friend.  Nevertheless, I do know that I have been blessed and feel honored to have been given an opportunity to work with the students that I do on a daily basis.  I learn so much each day and feel that this teaching experience is making me a better person and educator as I learn how to work with students who face daily obstacles that I have never had to encounter.  While the job may be different each day or class period and filled with challenges, what job is not?  I am thankful for my students for teaching me skills that I now know I lacked and was unaware that I needed, and I am hopeful that I can teach my students the importance of being understanding, working hard each day, and creating relationships built on trust.  I continue to look forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face throughout the school year, and I have no doubt that we (our classroom and program) will continue to grow and show success as we head deeper into the 2014-15 academic school year.  

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