We are often told the stories of teachers.
Of the gruelling days, the endless marking and sometimes insufficient pay. We hear of the hurdles and tiny triumphs that come with educating our children – but what we don’t hear quite so often, or really ever, are the stories of those who educate young Australians with disabilities.
Katherine Lingard, who has worked at Ashwood Special School in Melbourne’s south-east for five years, is one of those people.
“There isn’t really a typical day in a special school,” the 31-year-old special education teacher tells Mamamia.
“Despite the fact that we live and breathe routine… we need to let go of our control in order to sometimes work with our students and their needs that day.”
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While a classroom in a mainstream school will include an eclectic student group, a special school classroom is even more varied. As teachers like Katherine grapple with numeracy and literacy curriculum goals, they also manage a number of complex and sometimes conflicting impairments between students.
While one student might struggle with loud noises, another might struggle with deafness. While some might be easily distracted, others may be intently focused. While some may seek sensory stimulation, others may actively avoid it. Finding a balance – an often elusive equilibrium – that works for all members of the classroom is what Katherine tries to achieve every day.
“In our classroom, we cater for sensory issues, visual impairments, hearing impairments, auditory processing issues, gross and fine motor needs, comprehension issues, as well as a range of other challenges,” she explains.
“Depending on how students present, and what is happening in their life, each day can look extremely different. We provide extra support and assistance to do things for some students, and need to use short sentences, visuals and reminders and prompts to help students understand and remember what they are required to do.”
Katherine says that, to get through the day, her classes are aided with fiddle toys, movement breaks, visual assistance pictures, modified furniture and writing supports.
It's that sounds difficult, it's because it is. But the small wins and milestones make the hard days absolutely worth it.
"[The student's] milestones come at different times and at different paces," Katherine says. "So sharing the small wins, like putting together a three word sentence, reading a [book] for the first time, learning to tell the time, learning to use money in practical situations, remembering to unpack their bag on their own, playing with a friend for recess time, opening a lunch box for the first time, writing their name, or learning to tie shoelaces are things we celebrate."