Shortly after the last day of school, I spent some time in the Midwest and managed to visit friends and family, get married, then drive north and relax for a few days — all before returning to Alaska to begin teaching summer school.
Teaching summer school is enjoyable because it’s an opportunity to work with a new set of co-workers while instructing students who are often at a very different educational level. Much of it is teaching the very important skills of basic communication, social interaction, and participation. So much of what we do in life depends on our skills in these areas and committing to improve any areas of weakness.
One tool I use to develop vital communication and participation skills is music. At its most basic level, music is a medium that allows us to choose the way we’d like to respond. Some of us hum along, some dance in their chairs, and others even sing (some in tune, some out of tune). Wherever there’s a crowd of people gathered, somebody inevitably chooses to communicate through song. Individual reactions vary, usually depending on who or where you are and what type of music you appreciate. At any rate, many of my students with severe intellectual disabilities connect to and respond well to music.
Each morning our students gather for circle time, where we review the day of the week, the weather, and the daily plan. I happen to play guitar and harmonica, so we also take a few minutes to sing songs and react to the music. I notice that when I talk and play guitar, most students are much more engaged and connected to the topic of conversation — and they’re also more likely to communicate with others when prompted.
While I’m not a music therapist, I can understand why such an activity can be so beneficial to children and youth with disabilities. It also happens to be a lot of fun, for both the staff and the students. The element of music is something I haven’t used much in my classroom during the regular school year, but it really breathes life into our summer school curriculum.
In many ways, this past year has been among my happiest and most fulfilling as a teacher. I’m incredibly lucky to work alongside so many talented people who do so much to help students learn how to overcome obstacles and manage frustration. What’s more, we help instill or repair students’ self-confidence so they begin to focus on all they’re capable of, instead of what they’re not. What’s even more striking is that each year, we’re always evaluating what we could have done differently or better. As an educator, I feel that it’s my obligation to learn as much as I can in order to become a more effective teacher.
There’s no doubt that the experience of contributing to this blog and benefitting from the advice of many veteran educators has helped me do that. Thank you to our many readers — and especially to those who have shared their experiences by commenting.
And if any educators out there are thinking about teaching in or traveling to Alaska, I’ll add that it’s been an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. There’s always room up here for another adventuresome educator, so come on up and visit.
Thanks again, Reality 101 readers!