Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Rainman" Revisited

A few years back I took a substitute teacher job in a Special Education self-contained class in a local high school. I wasn't sure what to expect so I stayed open-minded until I saw what I was in for. The class was in the (FALS) Functional Academic Learning Support program. These are kids who stay in a self-contained environment for Reading and Math, then go to other subjects as Inclusion students (Phys Ed, Art, Foods) then return after lunch to the FALS classroom for Socialization skills.

I really enjoyed my experience that day. A few days later I was asked if I'd consider a long-term sub position in that class while the teacher was on maternity leave. I thought about it for a while and accepted the job. It was supposed to be for 8 weeks but turned out to be 11. I bonded with those kids and enjoyed every day with them.

Now there's a different teacher in the class, just as committed to these kids as the previous one. He calls me each time he needs a sub and I look forward to being with the kids.They stay in the program, if necessary, until they are 21. Those who can function well enough can move to another level at a local university. They think they are in college but it's actually an extension of the same environment they've been in before.

Ricardo is now 18 years old. He is one of my favorites. I spend a lot of time trying to help him in Reading and Math but his ability and comprehension levels keep him at a rather stationary stage. He can't work much with any Arithmetic beyond single digit numbers. Recently his teacher decided to let him use a calculator some of the time so he's not so frustrated. In Reading, I mostly read to him and he enjoys that. Twice weekly the kids go out to work experiences at local businesses who cooperate with the program. Ricardo was a bagger at a grocery store. He loved it! I remember one day while waiting for him to get back on the bus he came out of the door waving dollar bills in his hand. He was so proud of the fact that people were giving him a tip for helping to bag their groceries. He yelled at me, "Look Coach, they gave me money!"

David is closer to 21 and tried the college experience for a while but could not function in it very well so he's back in the FALS program in high school. He is more functional then most of the kids. He can go home on his own and even takes public transportation to sports events where he meets his father. He remembers everyone's birthday. Whenever I ask him mine he nails it every time. Problem is he needs so much attention that some businesses ask that he not return because he requires so much attention. He asks a question about every 15 seconds.

Bobby will be trying out for the next sequel of "Rainman". I love Bobby. He talks a mile a minute and has a smile on his face 24/7. Some of his functions need constant reminders so I set up a special "Code Red" between him and me to remind him when to visit the rest room. Bobby stays out in the hall and directs traffic during class changes so other students aren't late to their next class. They all "high 5" him as they pass by. While we waited for the bus after his work experience, he and I set up a radio show on the steps of a pet store. His job there was to clean the front of the aquariums. Bobby did the weather and I did the sports. I would introduce him as our on site weatherman and ask him what his prediction would be for the day. He always answered the same way.... "Nice". Bobby and I had lots of fun with that schtick and the other kids with us really enjoyed his "reports". I was always hoping the bus would be late so we could keep doing our radio show.

So this is a small sample of the kids I work with when I sub in this program. To tell you the truth, I'd do it for nothing if the County could no longer pay for subs. I love these kids.

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