published: February 2017

Special needs a special occupation:

An invitation to be aware at the present moment

My name is Roberta Rosa-Snyder and I would like to share with you my adventure and experiences in teaching special needs children in the school of Moffat. I originate from Brazil where I was a professor at Faculdade de Interacao Americana. I also worked for many years teaching Portuguese- (my mother’s tongue) speaking employees of companies, such as Mercedes and Volkswagen, English as a second language.

I have worked with children when I was much younger, but the bulk of my experience has been with adults. Throughout my life, like most people, I have had a wide range of experiences and challenges from which I have learned much. Nothing compares however to what I face now in this new place and occupation. Life is full of surprises, changes, and adventures. Mine has led me here to America to live in the beautiful San Luis Valley where I have had the most fortunate opportunity of working at Moffat School teaching special needs children. I have found this to be a fascinating and challenging new world for me.

The students of Moffat receive loving and abundant support of multidisciplinary professionals with whom I have the pleasure of sharing my experiences. As my peers, the other staff members, have warmly helped me prepare and develop my skills in lesson planning, which has indeed been a whole new universe to me. There are three aspects of my career I have learned much from and would like to share with you: Awareness, Improvisation, and Multi-Sensorial Learning.

Awareness: I discovered how to focus and be aware of details of each student and discern what difficulties each individual child faced so that I could address each one singularly. Each one of them have different amounts of time that they can dedicate to study, based on after-school schedules and varying home lives. I have to factor in emotional reactions, both good and bad, from daily life that affects their attention spans, or ability to concentrate. Things like not being well rested or illness for example.

I make myself aware of the look in their eyes, breathing, and tone of voice to ascertain how they are feeling in every small detail. This way I can create an environment most conducive to each student’s learning needs in the most positive way possible. While the average student is also affected by these factors it is minute in comparison the highly sensitive student body that blesses both my classroom and my life.

Improvisation: In Brazil we are known for our ability to improvise, a fact that has prepared me for the obstacles I have come to face in the classroom. I have applied this knowledge and found myself learning even more than I was teaching. I have used this now freshly honed ability to make math more relatable to my students. I improvised a plan to use the simple matter of grocery shopping to do so. Bringing in products, I set up a “Grocery Store” in class. I then have each student make a list and go shopping, step by step from picking the items on their list, noting the prices, to checking out and discussing purchase totals. In this way the math became a real and viable part of their lives as well as making it an adventure they immensely enjoyed.

Multi-Sensorial: Using different techniques to teach, such as when I brought in a book to teach them about different professions with many pictures (of professionals) with little actual text allowing for a more open discussion and an exploratory session of learning. They could look at a picture of a police officer, firefighter, or doctor asking and expressing ideas more fluidly. It was a blessed day that they and I have never forgotten. If learning is not fun it is uninspiring, uninteresting, and perhaps unabsorbed. I try also to record most of my classes and have found that the children are responsive and enriched by the reviewing of them. They take notes of their own reactions and behaviors. They ask questions like “Why did I say that like that?”, and evaluate on their own how they look and sound, playfully making remarks like “I sound like a baby.” This method gives them a tool for self-reflection in a very powerful way as well as giving me a tool I can use myself to improve upon lessons.

In conclusion let me say that when I have succeeded in teaching something new to my students I have the happiness of knowing each of their lives are made brighter by me in a small way. The feeling I get from this achievement is priceless. In the way of smiles and hugs I am repaid with something far more precious than money. Just knowing that they will carry the experience attained through the time they spent with me through their whole lives is an honor. I am grateful for this opportunity and love each of them very much.