Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Special Ed kids in my class will surprise you.

The Special Ed kids in my classes will surprise you. Honestly. They surprise me!  Korean schools don't separate special needs students from normal students. They're mixed into the class along with the handicapped, but the only teacher that really pays attention to them is their Special Ed teacher. Me? My favorite students are the special ed and slow students. Why? They're the most challenging yet, they're the ones I've seen the most marked improvement in if I show them a little extra attention. And I find, I can sometimes speak to them on a more normal level than my normal students. Unfortunately, my special students' grades won't reflect it and their performance is based on their moods and
tempraments, but on a speaking level, they're beginning to surprise me. Many have been coming out of their shell.

"Shona"- Special Ed, 3rd grade,
aka My Wild Child

That's the closest I can come to her name, because that's how it always sounds when my co-teacher calls her. She's one of my special students who is dramatically shy and many times, verbally incomprehensible. She might be a bit autistic; her nose is always running. She screams and hides from you in a violently playful way when you say Hi, and she's highly sensitive... but she likes receiving attention. She attends an English after school program in our school, though she can't apply any of her knowledge to class, so her classmates think she's stupid. That doesn't mean English words aren't in that little 3rd grade brain of hers. She often raises her hand to answer a question and when I pick on her, I can see the vague impression of words still reeling, trying to form in her head. 

Somewhere in the middle of the year, she's shown a slight improvement. Is she really learning or just developing confidence? It's one or the other. She surprises her classmates by occasionally having the answer and when she does, I make a huge "astonished" show of it... so does her classmates; and this is enough to keep her trying for more.

I talk to Shona more than I do a normal student and I do so in a way which is almost like me, talking to my 3rd grade self... who understands English! As my unpredictable wild child, I don't expect her to respond. She talks to me in Korean, I talk to her in English. Neither of us really understand each other and that's okay. We act like we do. But sometimes, outside of class when we're alone (ie I'm leaving school and she's leaving school too) , the pressure's off,  I talk to her and if she has difficulty understanding the gist of what i'm saying, I might sprinkle in a word of pocketbook Korean.  She responds either in English or Korean.. but she responds correctly, like we're having a casual "conversation".  It's kind of eerie but also cool and I'm proud of her!

Me: Shona, are you going home now?...
Shona: Yes. (and then continues talking in Korean)

It may sound like a little but compared to my normal or shy students, sometimes, it's a lot!

Ba-ul,  Special Ed 5th grade,
aka My kite flyer, future astronaut and lunchroom interviewer.

As my student enigma, Ba-ul often loses focus and concentration in class. He's connected to two worlds-- ours and his own, out in space. My first introduction to him was during my 2nd week of school- he was talking loudly to his neighbor in class while I was reviewing lesson vocabulary and so I marched up and said-- "Seeing as you boys like talking, can you tell me what this is?..." (I was mimicking my mom, who's a retired teacher & this was one of her classroom management techniques)  My co-teacher quickly ran up to me and with embarassment, whispered-- "That's Ba-ul, he's "special"... just ignore him!" The class laughed-- I was now "in" on the joke... That was the first time, I realized we had Special Eds in our classes.

But I don't ignore Ba-ul. From time-to-time, when he's floating out in his own world, I occasionally reel his kite back into the textbook. I practice pronunciation with him or make him write. For Ba-ul, words are like pretty, day-dreamy kites, floating in the sky. So, I try my best to give them tangible meaning and connect those flying words through human interaction, speaking, writing, a friendly pat on the back when he connects and does good. When he concentrates, he actually writes nicely, enunciates better and more sweetly than some of my normal students. Also, he occasionally surprises me when I talk to him. If he doesn't understand, he says sweetly "Teacher, I don't understand"(and not the typical "Mollayo" that I get from the rest of my students).

*Note of interest-- Ba-ul's one of the students that comes up to me during lunch, but unlike many who just tell me Hi, he asks me

"Teacher, how is your lunch? ...Delicious?"

Me: Yes Ba-ul, very delicious.
Ba-ul: Good. Bye.

Today after doing this routine with me, he turned to my 4th grade co-teacher and without a stop in flow, addressed her with the same question... in Korean! Switching language channels like that is not easy-- maybe its one of those genius signs of autism, as well-- but it nearly dropped my jaw. Despite being Special Ed, he has the potential to be a better student than many average ones.

Okay, so these are just 2 of my wonder students, but the fun doesn't stop there. I'll write more later about my  favorite class-- the one that "used to be" my worst!

If looks could kill, you'd be his next victim. Welcome to 6th grade...

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