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Sunday, April 27, 2014
The students who need us most
Let's call him Ivan.
It's the first day of school.
This extremely Autistic child walks into my classroom in August 2013. With 65 6th graders in the room whom I am meeting for the first time, he yells inappropriate things at all the wrong times. His designated para-pro does her best to control him, but she just met him too. I have no idea what the correct procedure is, but I trust my instincts.
He's nervous...just like all the other 6th graders who are coming to a new, larger school with multiple teachers. I must maintain my respect for him.
The majority of the students in the room have never met this child. Who is he? Why does he act this way? Some snicker and are distracted from learning.
As we sing for the first time in the Sight Singing game, Forbidden Pattern, he sings inappropriately loudly...obnoxiously so. Again...a few students snicker, but most are trying their best to stay focused.
On the third day of school, he had pulled the fire alarm while his mother stood right next to him. All 1500 children were evacuated because of it. So, he walks into my room later that day after the evacuation. He's quiet at first. Then, he stands up and walks to the center of my room filled with 65 new 6th graders and he yells to the very top of his lungs, "I pulled the fire alarm today! It was MEEEEEEEEEE."
After that class, one of my students asked me, "Why is he in this class with us? Shouldn't he be somewhere else?"
...and that is how the year started with my 6th period 6th grade students.
He was suspended for a day or two after he pulled the fire alarm.
After that, he slowly gained better self control and the para-pro and I learned to work together to protect the other 65 children in the room so they could sing and learn as a normal chorus class would, but it wasn't easy. His mother and I met a few times, and she shared with me that he loved YouTube. So, we made these two videos for him as he strove to earn the honor of participating in the first concert of the year and of the most important concert of the year...the Georgia Music Educator's adjudicated festival.
For Ivan for the first concert
For Ivan for the adjudicated festival
He responded beautifully to the YouTube videos that I sent. He felt very special, and I saw a difference in his daily behavior immediately. We came up with strategies for him to be successful in Concert #1, but he chose not to be in Concert #2. I think he recognized the importance of the rating system for Georgia Music Educator's Association, and he pulled himself out of the event. Other students were disappointed he wouldn't attend. I had already placed a note into the adjudicated festival judges form notebooks to prepare them for the unknown. He might sing extra loud and purposefully not blend. However, when he pulled out, I thought...Wow....he gets how difficult this will be for him and the other students if he can't keep control, and he bowed out with dignity.
As is often the case in circumstances like this one, I think I learned more than Ivan did. The students around him were nicer human beings, as was I. They learned to help him. They learned to understand him better. Does he still yell out? Yes. Does he still make odd noises while we sing? Yes.
I think we have to be flexible. Willing to learn. Willing to not have a perfect concert if that is what the universe has in store. Willing to move with the flow of the energy of that particularly group in that moment in time.
....and that is what Ivan has taught me and so much more.
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