Integration – a story of a first year teacher, a special girl who learned how to read, a group of freshmen cheerleaders, and why we need to learn together

On my first day of teaching fourteen years ago, I welcomed 35 students to a first period high school Spanish I class. I cried by the time lunch happened. I could not believe that the state of California had entrusted the care of 160 students to me, and that each student would bring a different set of skills, experiences, attitudes, and abilities. It was an overwhelming feeling of responsibility. And not only did I need to teach all these teenagers how to communicate through listening, speaking, reading, and writing in a new language, but one of my students had never learned to read or write, and physically struggled with speech. She was a 14 year old girl with cognitive and gross motor skills impairments. As a county special ed day student, she was to be integrated into two mainstream classes on the school campus. This was her mainstream class, along with art. She was also a Spanish speaker from a monolingual Mexican Spanish speaking family who understood everything I said in Spanish – much more than in English. But she was in my beginning Spanish class. How or what was I going to teach her?
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