Handling hurdles

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On the cusp of my first major practicum, I reeled at the principal’s presage: “I should warn you that last year in grade 6 the students tried to get their teacher fired. One girl would lie on the floor and throw tantrums.” I resignedly accepted the practicum.

Lacking a vehicle but having cerebral palsy, I was limited by HandyDART. I knew that Phil, my Faculty Associate whose confidence in my teaching ability exceeded my own, had laboured hard to find this placement. I practiced at that school for four weeks, without a tantrum on the students’ part or on mine. Instead, the students failed to complete their work. Phil, believing this situation stifled my professional development, searched for another practicum.

Phil apprised the next principal of my success and competence as a student/learner, my strengths and my motivation to burgeon into a solid teacher. He also outlined my limitations pertaining to navigating the classroom with my walker. I plummeted from the skillet into the fire–to an inner-city school with transient students who coped with broken families and incarcerated parents. Feeling constrained and intrusive, I did not thoroughly address my disability with the class until I incorporated it into Health and Careers.

Later, Phil lamented, “That placement did not meet your needs–crammed desks in tight rows, a fairly conventional teacher, a classroom culture that was not all that ‘difference’ sensitive–not a very ‘developmentally-oriented’ situation. I felt that we let you down and still believe that we could have done better with that placement.”

He added that the placement would have been unsuitable for any teacher, disabled or not. A practicum should hone strengths and nurture competence. Phil recalled, “The principal selected the School Associate based on our conversation. I did not experience her as being particularly receptive. In the next school, I visited the teachers and had a great sense about what your experience would be like.”

Phil strove to meet these criteria:

  1. A supportive and flexible school community and mentor who accepted my physical constraints;
  2. A supervising teacher who would co-teach with me temporarily; and
  3. The recognition that my possible inability to meet the 80% teaching requirement would necessitate a practicum extension.

My next placement satisfied the space, time and flexibility criteria well, yielding insights on creating an inclusive environment. It was an open grade four classroom where two teachers team-taught 56 students. It fostered my development—flexible teachers in a roomy, kid-friendly class—where I could manoeuvre easily around the pods of students and receive direct mentor support.

That first day I addressed my disability with the class. When questioned about being bullied, my openness cracked off my teaching mask and revealed my true self complete with a disability and a passion for teaching kids. Towards my practicum’s end, the principal of a school where I had applied visited to observe me in action.

My next classroom was my own.

Julia Byl
PDP 2000

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