A day in the life at a last chance school has been the topic of my blogs for the last few days. I have focused on what a last chance school is and what typically went on behavior-wise in the school. What I haven’t touched on is what was more important in this school, a school for severely behavior-disordered students. Were academics the focus or were behaviors?
Because our school was solely for children with severe behavior problems, we of course, focused a lot, and I mean A LOT on the social skills that would allow these kids to be successful in school and in life. These students at our last chance school did receive core academics, social studies, science, language arts and math. They also went to PE everyday, but we did not have a music education program.
I have mentioned in my other blogs that we teachers didn’t have a set curriculum that we used to teach each student academics. We did have a set of social studies curriculum but otherwise, the teachers used supplies that the school had, supplies which were quite old, or we ordered books and other curriculum materials from the district’s media center.
Was that beneficial to the students we had? I have to say that I loved it. Not having an enforced curriculum and having small class sizes, I was really able to see what each child could do and thus I was able to adapt the curriculum I was teaching to each child’s level. For instance, we once read To Kill a Mockingbird, even though I had some younger students who were in about 6th grade at the time, they read it with us. However, none of the younger students ever did any of the same work about the book that the older students did. They all received assignments after we read (always outloud as a group) but almost every student had a different assignment then their peers. It worked out really nicely for me, and for them!
Many teachers in the school in which I taught preferred to hand out worksheets and enforce the rule of working quietly and following instructions by doing so. That wasn’t me and it wasn’t how I wanted to teach. I enforced the following instructions social skill, but I didn’t ever just pass out worksheets and make kids sit all day. Instead, my students were out of their seats, they were role-playing and they were doing problems on the chalkboard, the overhead and the dry-erase board we had. I enforced social skills all day while teaching in this manner. It worked wonderfully for the group of kids I had.
Don’t get me wrong, social skills was a priority at our school and it was taught daily in the form of a core class, plus in mini-lessons throughout the day. Every class there was teachable social skills moments and we put them to good use.
Teaching at a last chance school made me realize that teaching students with behavior problems was truly what I wanted to do with my career. I loved the students, even some of the worst that city had to offer, still hold a place in my heart. I am thankful for that experience, even though I had severe professional disagreements with the principal, it was a great place to start teaching and it really helped shape how I continued to teach throughout my career.