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updated: 1/14/2013 11:14 AM

Tips from a great teacher

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Abigail Currie's approach to teaching middle school kids with special needs

• Middle School Years -- Remember they are years of growth and change!

Many people seem amazed that I enjoy teaching middle school. I get comments about "growing attitudes" or "laziness" that may appear at times in students of this age. I always respond that I love this age group because they are coming into identifying who they are as individuals, growing in their independence skills, and are more willing to have deeper discussions and conversations on topics. It is a great age group! I love getting the opportunity to watch as they mature from sixth grade to eighth grade. That movement from child to young adult is an awe-inspiring one. I think it is important for educators of this age group to remember that these students are constantly growing and changing. We need to embrace these years, and foster their growth not tear them down.

• See the child -- not the disability

Being a special-education teacher, I feel it is of the upmost importance to embrace the kids I teach and show them that I believe they have the "ABLE" in ability to do anything they set their minds and hearts to. The term "DIS"ability does not exist in my classroom. I work hard to make sure that my students feel proud of who they are. That they rejoice in their talents and skills, and show them off to the world whenever possible. No two humans are ever exactly the same some may not hear, some may not see, some may be challenged in reading or math but those same people could become Miss America, a famous musician, a teacher, anything! My students learn that nothing is holding them back from reaching for the stars! As long as they learn to become confident in the skills they have, in who they are as individuals, and learn to ask for the accommodations they may need when in a challenging situation, then there are no limits!

• Words to live by

I work hard to make sure my students remember a very simple, yet powerful phrase: "Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it yet." It is important to remember that everyone deals with things in different ways, and every situation brings with it different reactions and emotions. How many times have we ourselves had a bad day at work, and then bring home that negative attitude to our homes. Sometimes the same can be true for kids. I feel it is important they remember each day is a brand new day. A new start, a clean plate, a day when anything is possible. Did they get enough sleep the night before? Did they have breakfast? Did they forget their homework? There are many pieces to each student's puzzle, and it's part of my job to make sure they know each day is a fresh start. To give them a little bit of encouragement each morning, to set them off toward a good, positive day -- it can make all the difference in the world!

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