And so ends the second school year since we moved. The difference with the first school year was like night and day.
What was the difference? The teacher assumed competence. That really was all there was to it.
Sure, MK was officially assigned an aide this year, while last year he wasn't. But in practice he got much more attention from the aide in the classroom last year than he did this year. In fact, half way through this year, MK said that he found the aide annoying, so we changed policies so that the aide would only give help when MK specifically requested it, while last year he was working one-on-one with an aide for nearly half the instructional day. The real difference was that the teacher, a young man fresh out of college, assumed competence and insisted on full inclusion.
Right from the start, he wanted MK, and every other kid in the class, participating fully in all the class activities. He started the year off with a sleepover in the gym. MK was so not into that. His anxiety levels were maxed out as soon as he heard about it. But his teacher felt it was important that everyone attend, and so we set up a home/school plan to get MK used to the idea over the two weeks we had before the actual sleep over date. It worked. And MK had a great time!
At a recent IEP meeting, his teacher told us that, over the course of the year, he hadn't modified or adapted any part of MK's curriculum. He made sure MK had support where he needed it, and MK did need quite a lot of support, but the goals and expectations were the same for every kid in the class, including other special needs kids who require more support than MK.
He even applied this approach to French. We live in Canada now (moved here from NYC) where French study is mandatory. Last year MK hated it so much that his teacher took him out of the class. We had asked that he be included in the class but excused from answering questions and turning in assignments, but his 1950s style teacher put him out in the hall with an aide doing unrelated work. That suited MK fine, as the very mention of French was enough produce a near allergic reaction. What is more, MK was convinced that: a) learning a word in French would result in forgetting a word in English; and b) studying French carried the risk of one day waking up as a French speaker who was no longer able to speak any other language. The fact that his mother and I speak French and haven't lost out other languages did nothing do dissuade him of his hypothesis. In the end, given how much trouble MK has had with the English language, we decided not to push it.
So this year, when we did his IEP, we asked that his goals be to meet regular academic standards in all subjects but French. As it happened, this year, rather than the homeroom teacher handling the French instruction, they went to a separate classroom to be taught a native speaker of French. We expected MK to be pulled out, or at least have his program modified, but his homeroom teacher stuck to his position that all kids should at least try to participate fully in all activities. It was about half way through the year when MK said something we never expect to hear from his mouth -- "You know, French is kind of fun."
Now the year has ended and, unlike last year, when the teachers refused to grade his work and put asterisks instead of letter grades in his report card, MK came back with a report card filled with Cs and C+s. He was disappointed to see that he had gone from a B to a C+ in math because of the difficulty he had with geometry (protractors are not his thing) but that was made up for by -- you guessed it -- a B in French. You could have knocked us down with a feather.
For a kid who, at the beginning of the school year, did not know what the word "neck" meant in English (as you can see in the dialog at the very end of this post) it's an amazing accomplishment. I'm very proud of MK for getting over his fear of French and for his stunning progress in language in general this year. Part of it is down to his amazing SLP. Part of it is down to MK's own hard work. But we owe much of it to a teacher who decided, as a basic policy, to assume competence and give all the kids in his class the opportunity to stretch and grow in ways that no one was expecting.