I began my teaching career in 1974, and for many years, until the IDEA Act in 1990, students with physical disabilities were excluded from the regular classroom. I can remember the first students I had after this law was passed - two were in wheelchairs, and two were blind - and I also remember the fear and anxiety that many teachers felt about how to include our new students with physical challenges into our daily routines. To be honest, I did not share their anxiety. I knew people with many forms of special needs since I was a child, and I always figured that with or without a disability, kids are still kids. That philosophy served me well. As the 90's progressed, more students were mainstreamed into the regular education classroom, including students with mental disabilities and challenges, including Down Syndrome, the autism spectrum, severe dyslexia, lower IQ, and many other issues. Looking back, I believe that I probably taught most of the students with special needs who came through North Allegheny, and I loved the lessons those students had to teach to the rest of the class and to me. They made me a better teacher! For example, I learned to stop talking while writing on the board; instead, I wrote, and then turned and faced the class for my lip readers. I helped all of my students get better organized each day and week, because of a suggestion from a student on the spectrum who liked to read the lesson highlights on the board. So, I put the highlights on the board! He used it as sort of a a compass for the class.
I told my classes at the beginning of each school year that EVERY student has strengths and lessons to share with others, and they believed it because I believed it. I loved the courage of so many of those brave students who persevered and loved school and friends and life, despite their challenges. I loved students with special needs so much that I even created a summer session special needs theater camp, and some of the kids liked it so much, they signed up twice a summer!
Thinking about how far Education has come with inclusion, I saw a story by Steve Hartman that touched my heart. A 14 year old boy with Down Syndrome named Caleb Prewitt did NOT like exercise, until he met Chris Nikic, a 21 year old man with Down Syndrome, and the first person ever with Down's to cross the finish line of an Ironman Triathlon. If you do not know what that entails, it is a grueling 140 miles of swimming, biking, and running. A person has to be in great shape to complete such a race. Chris became a mentor to Caleb, and Caleb just completed his first mini- triathlon! Such an exciting story, and so uplifting to see Chris in such an important mentorship role. Pure inspiration!
Just as I always said in my classroom, every person has gifts and talents to share and lessons to teach. Please click on the link below to see a video of these two young men - it will make your heart smile!
Visit Dede's web page for complete details on her award-winning book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER. Many colleges have made the book required reading. Signed copies are available www.dederittman.com Dede is also a national speaker on The Three C's for Classroom success: Confidence, communication, and Creativity; Avoiding Teacher burnout; and many other inspirational topics.
I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books. Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self. However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37
Teacher friends- let me know if you want me to read GRADY GETS GLASSES at your school. I am willing to come in to discuss the creative writing process, why writing is important, and personal fulfillment through writing, along with reading my book. I would appreciate the exposure, and I would make signed copies available for purchase in your classrooms following the reading. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org The website www.gradygetsglasses.com now has plush Grady bunnies for sale!
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