The Right Stuff: Sometimes You Find the Perfect Job and Sometimes It Finds You
"Once I started working with special needs students, I couldn't leave," says Edward Foote, who teaches fourth and fifth graders at the Jefferson Avenue Elementary School in Fairport, NY. "The challenge of creating the right program to get kids excited about school makes it a great field to work in."
Foote's students, who he teaches in a self-contained classroom and also in inclusion classes with the general student population, have disabilities that range from severe physical and emotional needs to autism. Foote also helped craft the district's elementary technology curriculum and teaches a variety of in-service classes.
His results are impressive: Last year the reading levels of his fourth graders increased more than a grade and a half within one year, and behavioral issues have decreased by over one half.
Now in his sixth year of teaching, Foote says his "aha" moment came when one of his students, a boy who was having trouble writing his name on assignments every week, thrashed him in a video game. "That was when I dove into learning about how technology can meet students' academic needs," he says.
Foote's teaching approach can be summed up thusly: Support students' learning styles and present information in new ways to find the correct method to increase academic achievement, self-image, and social abilities.
He starts by giving interest surveys to every student he works with. "I use the survey to open discussions about what content the students are viewing, to talk about acceptable use and reliability of information, and to use the topics or Web sites they like as positive reinforcement in behavior plans," he says.
One insight Foote gained from the surveys that he might not have otherwise was that students were interested in a foreign language. With that in mind, Foote formed a partnership with a high school Spanish class in New Jersey. The Spanish students created video lessons and then posted them on Foote's Web site. The two-year project, now ended, was mutually beneficial: Foote's students gained linguistic experience, cultural knowledge, and made personal connections with the high school students. …