Saturday, August 31, 2013

Year Two: Back in My Comfort Zone Part 1: Leisure Skills

At the end of my first year of teaching, the woman who taught next door to me and who had a class of students with more involved disabilities, was moving away. Oak Harbor was and is a Navy town. Many teachers were married to spouses in the Navy, and when the spouses were shipped out or moved to another base, they were gone. This is how I got to inherit a class much more in my "comfort zone".

Learning to play at the group home.
Remember I said that I worked for four years in group homes for children and young adults with disabilities? What you might not know is that group homes in the early seventies were very new and the residents that filled these homes were the first "wave" of people released from state residential facilities like Rainier State School in Buckley, and Lakeland Village in Medical Lake. Most of these children had lived their entire lives in these facilities. They learned self-care and went to school, but what I noticed when I started working with them in the group home, was that they didn't really know how to play. Used to sitting in "day rooms" and watching TV, that was their default way to spend the day. This would not do! I decided we would concentrate on learning leisure skills. I introduced music for singing and dancing. We played with big parachutes in the back yard. The little girls played with dolls and all of the children took part in Special Olympics. Soon I saw such a change in their behaviors. They became more animated and interactive. With trips to the park and lots of walking around the small town, many of them started to loose weight. I loved this group of kids! I felt like they were my very own and missed them so much when I quit to teach.
Leisure skills, year two.

Special Olympics, Oak Harbor

So when I was privileged to take the self-contained class vacated by the teacher who moved, I was overjoyed! Here was a class of students very much like the children and young adults I left in Kent.

Thinking about what the future might hold for these students, I again decided that it would be important to add learning leisure skills to their curriculum. And so we worked with clay and made pottery. I taught them how to hook rugs that they themselves designed. They learned how to play card games with each other, asking questions and taking turns. And of course they too were active in Special Olympics! What fun we had!

I'm not finished talking about year two. Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

First Year - Oak Harbor Junior High School; Resource Room Teacher

It wasn't what I really planned on teaching that first year, or probably ever. Junior high school aged students were very intimidating to me. I  had just finished doing a student teaching with elementary aged students with significant disabilities. And for three months prior to that, I had my "dream job" of working with preschool aged children with special needs. But this was 1974, and as graduating seniors in the education and/or special education field, we were being told, "You will get a job, but you have to be willing to move.

My Aunt and Uncle at a family reunion in the early 2000's.
And so when a special education resource room position was posted in Oak Harbor, I applied. Why Oak Harbor? I lived in Seattle. Well the answer is easy. My aunt and uncle, both long time teachers, lived and worked in Oak Harbor. In fact, these two people were the biggest influence to me choosing teaching as a profession. Over the years, when we would travel to visit, my uncle would let us help grade papers. We were thrilled to be using a red pencil to mark mistakes or make check marks! And using an answer key was really fun! But what I could really see with both my aunt and uncle was their love of teaching and that was something I wanted too.

Well needless to say, I got the job. My first "real" job! I couldn't believe I would be getting paid $8,000! That was an amazing amount of money to me! I had worked in the group homes for $1.60 an hour, so this was a big step up!

Faculty vs. freshman volley ball game.
That's me in the overalls!
I don't have a lot to say about that first year except that the boys I had in that group of students seemed fascinated by me. Here was a typical Friday afternoon conversation: "Miss Prato, do you want to go out with me this weekend?" Me, "No. Remember, I am your teacher." Student, "So? Do you want to go out anyway?" No matter how many times I said this, I still had these boys asking me out. Thinking about it now, I can see I wasn't that much older than they were! Most of them would be in their early 50's now!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

How It All Started

Thirty-nine years ago this past June, I graduated from college with a degree in Special Education. This degree entitled me to teach identified special education students from kindergarten through high school. This was not a field I went into without prior knowledge, having volunteered for the Washington Association for Retarded Citizens (now known as ARC) in their summer camp program and in the Special Olympics, and after completing three years working in a group home for children and young adults with disabilities.
Me at the end of student teaching. June, 1974
Having just finished a three month practicum in early childhood special education, and a three month student teaching in an elementary school for children with more significant disabilities, I was anxious to begin my adult life as a teacher in this field.

As I now begin my final year in education, I want to look back over the years and share insights, funny stories, highlights, things I've learned, and things I wished I'd learned earlier then I did! I hope you will join me on this year long journey!