Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. Spending time with families and friends. Eating entirely too much food. Most importantly, stopping to think about the things in life we’re most grateful for.
This past Sunday, my pastor began his sermon by explaining that he was very aware Thanksgiving had already come and gone, but he’d never had the opportunity to preach a Thanksgiving message and was not going to miss the chance, even if it did come a few days late. Toward the end of the sermon, he read a list of things that he was thankful for: the early morning sound of the alarm clock, sore muscles at night, mortgage payments and income taxes. Obviously, this is a pretty strange list, but he went on to give reasons why he was thankful for these things. The early morning sound of the alarm clock is a reminder that he has life another day. Sore muscles at night mean he was able to be productive. The mortgage payment is a reminder that he’s blessed with a warm home. Income taxes are paid because he has a job and the ability to work.
This illustration immediately reminded me of the little parts of being a special educator that I complain about (mostly to myself). Those things that, at times, I feel certain will drive me crazy and, to be frank, just get on my nerves. So, I decided to think about these things from a new perspective and developed a list of the top five things I’m thankful for as a special educator.
I’m thankful for the process of finagling everyone’s schedule to set up a meeting, filling in new assessments, writing new goals and objectives, making sure everyone signs on the right line and filing the stack of papers associated with the document away in my students’ folders in the correct spots. I’m thankful for this process because it reminds me that someone cared enough about my students and other students with disabilities that they made sure they were receiving a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and put accountability measures, such as the IEP, in place to ensure it happened. I’m thankful for re-assessing and writing new goals because it means we’ve made progress, and past goals have been met.
I’m thankful for the nearly 50 page document I have to compile for each of my 14 students (either be typed or written in blue ink), which includes writing example activities, recording data, collecting signatures and demonstrating that students were instructed in various environments and with ample opportunities to make choices. I’m thankful for the tedious process of alternate assessment because it means students with severe disabilities are now being educated with the peers they were so long kept separate from. They remind me that high expectations have been set for my students, too, no matter their disabilities. I’m grateful for the many words that will be typed or written in blue ink on the portfolio documents, because I know someone will take the time to read each word and see the progress each student has made in a year’s time.
3. A noisy
“free choice” area
I’m thankful for the loud clamor of voices and materials that comes from the “free choice” area of my classroom twice each day. I’m thankful for the “quiet downs” and “it’s too louds” that are spoken by myself and my assistants during “free choice” times. These sounds mean my students have followed the class expectations, made responsible choices and are now enjoying a few precious moments of structured leisure activities and valuable social skills practice.
4. An empty
I’m thankful for constantly having to round up more paper to add to the paper pile my students use to do morning work, class work, draw or write on. I’m thankful that they sometimes grab worksheets I’ve freshly copied for lessons later in the day and use the backs of them to do their morning work or to figure out a math problem. These missing papers remind me that my students are being responsible and completing their work, demonstrating more writing skills and using classroom resources independently to figure out problems.
I’m thankful for the constant ringing of my name in the classroom. I’m thankful for hands that shoot up as soon as I begin speaking to the class about a lesson or an assignment. I’m thankful for the many “I need help!” or “I can’t do this!” or “This is too hard!” utterances. The frequent calling of my name, hand raises and pleas for help remind me that my students are present. They are in an environment where they can learn and grow, and I’m privileged to be part of that. The repeated requests for help are evidence my students are being challenged and that learning and growth is taking place.
It’s amazing how looking at things I would probably have put on a top five most annoying parts of my job list begin to look much different when viewed from a different perspective, from an attitude of gratitude. Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I challenge you to think about those things in your classroom that you definitely wouldn’t describe yourself as thankful for, and look at them in a new light. Make your own top five lists. I’d love to hear what you’re most thankful for in your classrooms!