When I first started working in the school system as a Paraeducator, I was right out of college and four months pregnant. My degree is in English, History, and Women's Studies; I had completed one education class, Foundations of Education, a course that focused more on the history and philosophy of education than actual practice.
there I was, thrown into the school system with no training except my
own life experiences, and paired with a third grade student with
significant physical needs and behavior struggles. He was also extremely
bright and prone to argue. About a third of the way into the school
year, he turned to me and said, quite emphatically, "Why do you always
catch me being BAD? Why can't your eyes ever catch me being GOOD?"
if we're being honest, my initial internal response was, "You have to
actually BE GOOD for that to happen." What I said was, "I see you do
lots of good things. I'm sorry you feel like I don't see that. Do you
think we should work on that?" He agreed that we should, and I promised
to come up with a solution. "How about for now, we just put this
post-it note on your desk, and every time I catch you listening to the
teacher, staying on task, using nice words, and doing the right thing, I
will make a tally mark. Then if you get five tally marks, you can have a
sticker." He thought this sounded great.
I never came
up with a more permanent solution, and he never needed the sticker,
although I did give it to him as promised. Every time I came and made a
tally mark on that post-it, he beamed. All he wanted was acknowledgement
of his efforts, because he was trying even if he wasn't always successful. This strategy worked for him; he argued less and felt more confident in himself.
Leaving this child the following year, in the middle
of the year no less, was painful for both of us, but he was ready for more
independence and I needed to move to preschool for a variety of reasons.
I have always taken this lesson of "catching being good" with me to
the younger children who have special needs, with whom it is so easy to
become frustrated. Often times they are so hungry for attention that they will do just about anything, including climbing furniture and hitting friends, to gain it. When we give them attention for positive behavior we reinforce what we want and help extinguish what we don't want. If they are receiving attention for sitting on the carpet or sharing a toy, there's no need for disruptive behavior.
In preschool, though, I learned a
bit of a new language. Most importantly was "good choice" and "bad
choice." Children aren't bad or good, they make choices just like adults
do. Most of us want help learning from the times we make a mistake,
and we all want a pat on the back when we succeed.
an example of a very simple chart you could use. You could even make a
page with five of them on it so that the entire week would be visible.
This particular student needed to focus on short periods of time,
therefore I used one sheet per day . If he was given ultimatums that
were too big or too far away, he almost always failed, not because (like some
preschool and kindergarten students), it was too far away for him to remember but because the idea of "being good" for that long felt unattainable.
My name is Erika and I blog over at the other lion about life with my son, Punkin, who has Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X Syndrome is the leading cause of inherited mental impairment and the most common known single gene cause of autism. I have been working as a paraeducator for a little over 7 years, and in preschool special education for a little over 5 years.