Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Tim Villegas. Tim is one of my twitter friends and has written a guest post for Special Education in the Past entitled, “Fear Factor: Getting over the biggest obstacle to inclusion.” He is a huge advocate for inclusion and was one of the first people I thought about when we started this series.
1. What is your name?
2. What is your education level and credentials?
I graduated with a BA in Psychology from Azusa Pacific University and did my credential work at Cal State University Fullerton in Moderate/Severe Disabilities
3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?
Tim loves his family, his job and his obsessions (sports/music/cooking/gardening) and does his best to love people the way God loves us.
4. Do you have a website?
5. How long have you been a Teacher?
This fall, I will have been teaching nine years.
6. What type of classroom do you teach (i.e. General Education, Special Day Class, etc)?
I teach in a self-contained classroom for students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities which has moved to a more inclusive system each year I have been there. (This fall will be my 5th year at my school)
7. What Research based instruction methods do you use in your classroom for your students with a disability?
We use a variety of instructional methods including but not limited to: switch-based access to technology via computer and Smart Board, low-tech manipulates (textured/raised/magnified), setting up activities with routines in mind, visual and auditory support, access to communication devices for participation and choice making, as well as anything else under the sun.
Really…whatever is going to work for that particular student.
8. What other educational methods have you used that have been successful for your students with a disability?
The most powerful educational method for my students is to realize that they deserve to have access to the general education curriculum just like any other student and to give them the opportunity to work with grade-level materials. This (of course) can be a challenge but as long as you can have this idea in mind…anything is possible with the right support.
9. How do you create inclusion opportunities for your students with a disability?
I am very open about my belief that inclusion is for all students (all means all). I believe that all students no matter what disability they may be labeled with deserve to live, learn and play with their same age peers. Now…I can already hear the “b-b-but” in many people’s mind and before you completely write me off let me explain. I believe our education system (especially in the United States) is not setup up for this concept. We are still trapped in the belief that high-stakes testing is the measure for achievement. As long as this is the standard…children with special needs will continue to be left behind in public education. So while I am all for inclusion…we need a place to put the students who are coming out of self contained rooms. The majority of school districts do not have the resources or wherewithal to make this a reality. So…I may disagree with many inclusion advocates…inclusion done badly is NOT better than the alternative (segregated classrooms)…it is just BAD teaching! I do believe inclusion is the best choice for ALL students and hope to see this dream realized in our education system.
Okay…to answer your question. Each year I have included more and more students with severe/profound disabilities into general education (this is beyond just Music/Art/P.E./Computer). All of my students go to their grade level specials/enrichment time and any field trips that are planned for that grade-level as well. I try to work with the each grade-level and find specific opportunities to have my students interact with their peers. I also find it helpful to sit in on any meeting that grade-levels have to see what is going on around the school. Sometimes the special education teachers need to do a little more including of themselves into general education environments in order to meet the needs of their students.
10. What behavior strategies and methods have worked for you in the classroom for students with a disability?
I used to deal with more challenging behavior in previous classrooms but the most effective thing in all the environments I have taught in is to establish clear expectations. Whether working with students who are non-verbal or who have typically developing language skills…helping them understand what comes first, and next and developing routines usually solves most “behavior”. When appropriate…I have used self regulating behavior charts as well as timers and other visual aides.
11. How do you involve parents in educating their children in and out of the classroom?
I try to make a connection with parents fairly early in the school year and talk to them about their child and what their expectations are for their educational goals. Before IEPs I always try to get the parents input so as a team we can discuss what is best for their child.
12. How do you communicate with the parents?
I use the school agenda or communication book that goes from home to school and back each day. I write at least one sentence for every child every day. Most often…it is more than that. I am also available by email and I give them my cell phone for emergencies only. So far…I have not had a family take advantage of that.
13. How do you collect data to determine if a child has met their IEP Goals?
There are clipboards for every student which contains their IEP Goals as well as data sheets for each. My paraprofessionals are instrumental in keeping up with all the data. It can be overwhelming. I also have a page that displays their reinforcement preferences (so on the fly…I can see “Johnny” loves to give high fives for good work).
14. What is a typical day like in your classroom?
As I am sure with most SPED teachers…a day is anything but typical. My students come off the bus and are brought into my classroom with the help of my paraprofessionals (who are best in the world BTW). We unpack, get any toileting/feeding/medical needs out of the way and we have morning announcements (via closed circuit TV). After announcements I usually go through our morning routine (a combination of calendar, music, weather, and sensory activities). The rest of the day is a whirlwind of students coming and going to specials/enrichment as well as general education segments, one-on-one teaching, small group lessons, reverse inclusion with general education students, snack time, lunch time and play time (inside and outside). By the end of the day…we are all exhausted.
15. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever seen in the classroom?
I would have to say seeing the growth of one of my students who went from being in my self-contained classroom all day to now being fully included in a 3rd grade general education classroom. I think that is pretty darn cool.
16. What advice would you give other Teachers about teaching students with a disability?
Never assume that the student you are working with does not or never will “get” what you are doing. Believe that someway…somehow you will make a difference in that child’s life.
17. What else would you like Parents and other Teachers to know that we haven’t already asked?
I am not an expert. I learn so much from having discussion with my colleagues, the families I work with and others via social media. I still have SO much to learn and I am thrilled to along for the ride.