"What do you teach Mr. Saez?" This question often echoes through the hallways of Nagoya International School. As a Learning Support Teacher, my response is often met with confusion or a blank stare. But behind the scenes, my role is integral to supporting students who face academic challenges and helping them reach their full potential.
I work closely with neurodiverse students who struggle with various aspects of their academic learning, such as Math, Reading, and Writing. These students may have different diagnoses, ranging from AD/HD and ADD to autism, dyslexia, or dyscalculia. Each student is unique, and we must consider their individual learning styles. Of these, dyslexia is one of those that we often see here at NIS. Often when students are diagnosed with concentration issues, it affects their executive functioning, leading to lower skills in reading and writing, which are also associated with dyslexia. These types of learning challenges not only affect the student’s academic life but also their social skills and overall student life.
To ensure that students receive the necessary support, I collaborate with a team of professionals, including parents, teachers, principals, and other specialized service providers like Occupational Therapists or Speech Pathologists. Together, we create Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) or Student Support Plans (SSPs) that outline personalized goals, modifications, and accommodations to help students access the curriculum effectively.
Intervention is a crucial part of my role. It involves implementing targeted strategies and resources designed to address a student's specific academic challenges. Personalization is at the core of intervention, recognizing that every student learns differently. By tailoring interventions to match their individual needs, we provide them with the best opportunities to succeed.
For example, one of the programs we use at NIS is the Read Live program and we use it for both students with reading challenges and ESL students. It gives them tools for breaking down word patterns and sounds and helps them to connect with prior knowledge. Of course, the earlier the diagnosis and creation of an IEP or SSP, the easier it is to optimize the use of these tools. In comparison, students that have been diagnosed a little later, have already developed some coping methods that might need to be broken down before new skills are taught. But all in all, we can see a lot of progress for these students when they get the individualized attention and support they need.
To illustrate what can be done, one of the students I worked with in their Gr. 5 year needed to have their tests read to them when we first started working together. Two years on, they are taking tests on their own and writing paragraphs. A lot can be accomplished with the proper intervention - either helping to build an IEP or following one that a student has come in with.
Our commitment to offering a diverse and inclusive learning environment is stated in our guiding principles as a school and is what defines my role. We believe that every student should have an equal opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment that provides access to the curriculum. My responsibility is to ensure that the school supports every student by working with all stakeholders, including classroom teachers.
When it comes to supporting neurodiverse students, there is no single perfect approach. In my opinion, flexibility is essential to supporting students, whether it involves push-ins or pull-outs. Both programs have their differences. The push-in approach allows for socialization, peer interaction, and the ability to hear instructions alongside classmates. On the other hand, the pull-out approach enables focused interventions such as reading, re-teaching, and breaking down concepts to cater to individual needs, providing a more personalized learning experience. Ultimately, a combination of both approaches can create a well-rounded and customized learning environment that caters to the diverse needs of students.
To enable this, at the start of the school year, I will create a schedule and prioritize my time for neurodiverse students who would require more support. By identifying neurodiverse students with specific needs, I can provide more time and resources to ensure they receive the necessary assistance. It helps me to focus on individual interventions, provide targeted instructions, implement strategies that address their needs, and most important it gives me time to collaborate with their general education teachers to optimize their learning in the classroom to develop their lesson plan or assessment with the student's built-in accommodations. By giving these students the support they require from the beginning, I aim to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment that sets them up for success throughout the school year.
The most fulfilling part of my job is witnessing the positive impact I can have on their lives. Even little progress and growth in my students bring me immense joy and remind me of the importance of education. It's gratifying to know that I'm making a difference and helping students reach their full potential. However, it can be frustrating when some individuals doubt the abilities of neurodiverse students. This only reinforces the importance of advocating for neurodiverse students and increasing awareness about how to support them in the classroom. Also, working within a team with competing ideas can be challenging, but ultimately, all teachers want what's best for their students.
So, when asked, "What do you teach Mr. Saez?" My response is that I am a Learning Support Teacher. While my role may differ from traditional subject teachers, my focus is on supporting students who face academic challenges and helping them overcome barriers to their learning. Through individualized plans, targeted interventions, and collaborative efforts, I am committed to making a positive impact on the lives of my students, ensuring they have the tools and support they need to succeed academically within NIS and beyond.