One of my third graders exploring the possibilities of rotational symmetry (2009).
I was back at school this past week.
When I go back to the elementary school where I last taught, fewer students are there who remember me.
The kindergarten students I had are now in fourth grade. The fourth grade students are in middle school.
I was back again on Wednesday for the holiday sing rehearsal. Everyone sings for everyone.
On Thursday it would be different. Half the grades will sing for parents and grandparents in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.
I love the rehearsal.
A fifth grader greets me in the hall. “Hey, Mr. Ka-lonsky!”
Of course, the kids did great. Ms Seputis, the music teacher, prepared them well, as she does every year.
We were special comrades, Ms Seputis and I. Music and Art are those rare school subjects in which the work the students do is intended for an audience beyond the classroom.
There is performance and exhibition.
For years we Art and Music teachers were known as specials. That meant we were not a core subject.
Both No Child Left Behind and the newly authorized Every Student Succeeds Act declared the Arts as core subjects. But with many schools going without the Arts at all, and even the elementary districts that have the funds to include it in their course of study limit it to an hour or so a week, it is hardly a core reality.
The Arts are not on the test.
A small favor.
I didn’t mind being called a special, although I always assumed it was a title meant to be somewhat demeaning.
I chose to embrace the title. We were special!
Even though a few of my colleagues viewed us as little more than their planning time.
I didn’t blame them. They needed and deserved planning time.
As I listened to the students singing holiday songs in the gym, I thought back on the best ten years of my career.
Back then, ours was what they called a cluster school. Students in the district with special needs like Autism or Down Syndrome came to our school where the district concentrated services.
One Friday we were told that the following week our school would provide full inclusion for all our special needs students.
I think a parent filed suit. School districts don’t act quickly on issues concerning special education without a law or a law suit.
None of us had been prepared for this. No preparation was provided.
With little support from district administration we teachers and support staff struggled to make inclusion work. It is a great story of what professional teachers do. It is a story that demonstrates the difference between teachers as professionals and the latest fad of phony alternative teacher preparation and certification, of putting five-week miracles in front of a class of students.
It is a story I will tell you some time.
Just before I retired, and in the three and a half years since, they have moved to end the cluster idea. And inclusion is a practice that must be fought for every day. Law or no law.
The idea of full inclusion needs a level of support that has become costly in a time of school austerity. Perhaps it will take another lawsuit.
For me, those ten years that we tried to make it work were difficult, challenging and important.
I was lucky to be there.