Teachers of New Jersey: Hitting Milestones in Special Ed — One Generation & One Classroom at a Time

NJ Teachers’ Lounge is excited to continue its Teachers of New Jersey series in 2017. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the series, it now comes out twice a month. This editorial series is curated by photojournalist, Gregory Andrus, creator of the social media series, Portraits of the Jersey Shore. These stories highlight the joys, struggles, and personal reflections that surround being a teacher.

“I have been teaching here at Cedar Grove Elementary for almost 15 years. I teach the autistic program. I have six students, and they range in abilities and needs. They started with me in kindergarten. My class is with me from kindergarten though second grade. We are at the end of my students’ three years with me, and I am blown away by how much they have grown. It is beyond rewarding to see how far they have come.”

“We have a buddy club here, where fifth graders come in twice a week. In years past they worked on Legos projects, and this year they are doing a lot of STEM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It is great to see their work being done together. It is so wonderful to see the language that comes out of it, and the creativity they put into it—they learn how to work together, at their pace. The fifth graders are selected from a Bridges program, and they are hand-picked at the beginning of the year to work with our students, to help promote awareness and socialization.”

“This year I put together a big lesson for the teachers, where I did a PowerPoint and had some questions, and a link to the Sesame Street Julia character. I did it to promote awareness in our school. In each class, the teacher would show the presentation to the students, and the older kids would read a book. Then they were all asked to write on a puzzle piece something they learned or how they can be a better friend, and we hung them all up in the building for the month of April. And to see what everybody wrote, then to have all of the teachers share with me what great discussions they had, meant so much to me.”

“My mother’s older brother was what they called back then a “Mongoloid.” I never met my uncle. He passed away right around the time I was born. I remember a few stories my mom would share, how he was kept at home as long as possible, but then he got bigger, and they couldn’t keep him home. There were not the resources back then to help families. So my mom remembers they would go visit him, and go have picnic lunches with him, but it was different times back then. It wasn’t like it is now, where we accept our kids.”

“I didn’t understand why he had to be put in an institution back then. I mean, I understood times were different back then, but when I was with the special ed kids, there was such a great joy just being there with them, and watching them perceive the world, versus how we perceived it. Nowadays there are so many different resources and programs and opportunities than there were back in the 1950’s.”

“A prevalent misconception that still persists in this day and age is that kids with special needs are weird, or that they can’t be friendly, and people are uncertain how to relate with them. When you are out and someone may be having a tough time in a store, it isn’t appropriate to stare; instead, maybe just use it as a teaching moment, or lend a hand. This school has done a great job of promoting awareness. It has always been a very inviting building. Our teachers alway want to include my students in things, and we have peer buddies and even pair students up with my students in gym class. It’s things like that help the kids to all see that my kids are just like them in so many ways.”


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