TV Voice Competitions and Students with Autism

So I don’t know about you, but I’ve been loving all the TV Voice competitions.  Although I loved The Voice last season too, I had forgotten how much I LOVE watching the original coaches.  It’s been so fun to see them encourage their teammates and coach them to be the best that they can be.  At school, I see that as my role-a coach-not just someone who imparts knowledge but someone who coaches my students to become the best that they can be.  My goal is to encourage them, to challenge them to take risks (in a safe environment), to celebrate their successes, to walk alongside them in their hardships and to help them become life long learners.  I feel like I get just as excited as those Voice coaches when my students have successes.

Tonight as I am watching another voice competition on TV, I’ve begun comparing these groups to the school musical that I watched tonight.  My friend invited me to go with her to her son’s school to watch their holiday program.  Her son goes to a school for students with autism.  Honestly, this was the most amazing program I’ve seen in a long time!  These students with autism had been encouraged in their talents.  They had practiced long hours.  They had been challenged and encouraged to take risks and to try new things.  They were confident in their parts, and you could tell that their successes had been celebrated.  I loved watching the smiles on their faces and listening to their amazing voices.  Each actor stayed in character and performed the dances and songs with grace and joy.  I laughed and cried and smiled.  What an awesome way to spend an evening in the middle of a busy week.

When I got home and turned on the TV to watch the end of the Sing Off, I watched those groups sing and dance.  But…instead of getting lost in the drama and the fun of those groups, I found myself thinking again about those amazing students with autism who were doing the same thing tonight.  I’m so thankful for those teachers and parents who love those kids and care about them enough to provide opportunities for them to show off their talents.  It gives me joy and hope for my day tomorrow!  Thankful for neurodiversity!  (Do you know what that word means?  If not, look it up:)

Thanksgiving and Joy Rekindled

Here we are on Saturday night after some nice long days of rest and relaxation and family (and lots of turkey and stuffing). Is it really almost over? Do I have to go back to work on Monday? Can I please sleep in some more and pretend that the real world doesn’t exist? But now I remember those precious students God has put in my care. I’m thankful for them. I’m thankful for the way God has led me to stay at the same school for almost 15 years. I’ve gotten to know many students and families over those years. One benefit to teaching special ed (besides all that “wonderful” paperwork”:) is that many times I have students for several years in a row. I get to know the students and their families well. As I look back, I’m thankful for those good times and those hard times that we’ve walked through together. Do I want to go back and prepare for more principal observations or other schools coming in to see our new programs? Nope-I don’t. I’d rather just teach!

I dream of regular and consistent planning time. I dream of uninterrupted instructional time with students so that they have time to learn and apply new skills. I dream of students who come to school well-fed, well-rested, and ready to learn. I dream of being able to actually use all those great brain based learning strategies instead of prepping students for a test. I dream of time to collaborate with other teachers. I dream of a school and a world where all people are respected regardless of their disability. I dream of a world where people are noticed for their strengths. I dream of a world where neurodiversity is accepted and celebrated instead of torn down. I dream of teaching.

But now we’re heading into a new week. Although I don’t enjoy all that paperwork, and I don’t enjoy spending hours of my “free” time planning, I know that God is in control. A week of being away from the daily grind has reminded me that He’s got a plan. Even when I miss my planning for the fourth time in a week or even when I have to re-do another rating document (just to show for the fifth time that my kids have made progress on that skill) or even when I have to spend an extra hour on every single IEP because the computer program is less user friendly than it used to be, I can trust that God has a plan. He has put those students and families and coworkers on my path for a reason. It’s not just about teaching the content. It’s about sharing His love and His joy with those that He has put on my path. Today I am thankful for my job and thankful for time off that has allowed me to have that joy in teaching rekindled.