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SURVIVING THE SIXTH GRADE CHALLENGE by Robin L. House

Submitted by Admin on Sat, 06/01/2002 - 01:59

Editor's Note: Robin House serves as a board member of the National Association of Blind Students and a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. She completed her student teaching in December 2001. In May she will receive the Outstanding Student Teacher award from the University of St. Louis in Missouri.

"I feel sorry for you. They won't be afraid of you, and they won't listen to you," said my seventh grade son, Jason. "You're quite brave," said the principal at my children's school. These were common reactions when I told people that I received my student teaching placement in a sixth grade classroom for the fall semester. Similarly to most prospective student teachers, I was, admittedly, nervous about the unknown, but I was also ready and prepared.

When I talked with my cooperating teacher, he explained some of the logistics of our classroom. There were 24 students in our class, and 13 of them had IEPs. I would be working closely with the math and reading resource teachers as well as all three sixth grade teachers since the students switched classes for Science, Language Arts and Social Studies. I also discussed my blindness with my cooperating teacher. Though he initially seemed uncertain, our discussion alleviated the concerns he had expressed.

I experienced every aspect of the teaching profession during this 16-week placement. Continually managing and correcting students' behavior is essential in establishing an effective classroom. Though I could not see who hurled spit wads, rest assured that students would give clues. Based on the discussion, I was able to catch the culprit and refer him to the office. His punishment, serving three days of detention, stopped that problem. When students moved on to rubber bands, paper clips, and the "pencil break" game, good listening skills, close attention, and engaging lesson plans helped me in solving and preventing problems.

Learning and accessing new curriculum was another task I faced as a student teacher. I needed to familiarize myself quickly with the new math and science curriculum that the school district had adopted. By using the services of a reader, I tackled the new teacher's guides and assessed Students' written work. I also used Braille to make note cards for myself, which outlined my lessons. After papers were graded, I would attach them to Braille name cards with a paperclip for ease in distribution.

Our classroom and school community were closely tied together because of the terrorist attack of September 11. We all worked closely to strengthen the spirit of patriotism. Each day began with the Pledge of Allegiance and either the "Star Spangled Banner" or "Proud To Be An American." Throughout the semester we implemented service projects to collect money to help others. The students wrote about their feelings and thoughts, which helped them to process the events. The renewed sense of patriotism reminded us all of the timeless importance of peace.

I am excited and proud to say that I have completed the numerous requirements to be a certified elementary school teacher in the state of Missouri. It was exhausting work because I balanced it with a family of my own and a night course, but I enjoyed seeing students engaged by learning.

Additionally, I gained a deeper appreciation for the teaching process at work. Throughout the course of my student teaching, my son Jason listened to my classroom adventures with interest. He understood that the students' behavior was not related to having a blind teacher, but they were simply being sixth graders.