Back when Batya Jacob was in school, “either you figured out how to follow the teacher or you didn’t do well,” she said.
Now, that’s much less the case. “We are learning that you need to educate the children based on what their needs are and what their strengths are,” she added.
Ms. Jacob is the director of educational support services for Yachad: The National Jewish Council for Disabilities. She has organized a conference for parents and educators, “Toward Successful Inclusive Classroom Environments,” this Sunday and Monday in Teaneck at Congregation Keter Torah.
While Yachad is a program of the Orthodox Union, Ms. Jacob said her organization “wants the Jewish schooling that’s appropriate for every child, Orthodox or otherwise.”
The conference is in part a professional service day for the participating teachers. Sunday, though, offers an opportunity for parents and teachers to come together, “because teaching children is not one-sided. It’s a partnership. One of the ways to establish that partnership is to start a conversation between them,” Ms. Jacob said. On that day, there will be separate programming tracks for parents and teachers.
The keynote will discuss creating a positive relationship between parents and schools. A dinner panel will feature a dialogue between parents and educators. Workshop sessions include such topics as “Juggling all learners in an inclusive classroom” and “Promoting social skills with your children.”
Sessions on Monday are focused on educators, but parents are welcome to attend. Dr. Edward Hallowel, author of “Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder,” will be the main speaker. “He is one of the world’s leading authorities of ADHD, which is one of the most common issues our typical classroom teachers have,” Ms. Jacob said. “We are giving our educators, our typical classroom teachers, the latest methodologies and techniques to reach every child in the classroom.”
If teachers will learn about iPad integration and how to support students with learning issues – techniques they can use in their daily work – why should parents show up for those sessions?
“Parents who have children with any sort of challenge are looking for support,” Ms. Jacob said. “They’re looking to meet other parents. They’re looking to hear what the newest theories are. They’re looking to help their children.”
And the issue of special educational needs often extends past one child to affect the entire family. “A parent is coming to this conference to learn about how to best juggle their ‘special child’ within the rest of the family unit,” she said. “Not just how to juggle educationally, but socially.
“Sometimes when you have a child with special needs, its hard to juggle everyone else in the family. How do you blend the entire family unit together?”
Ms. Jacob will present a session on Sunday called “Help! I’ve Got a Test: Reducing Anxiety.”
“In almost every student there’s a tremendous amount of anxiety before testing,” she said. “We’re still at the stage where our kids believe that if you don’t get an A you won’t get into college, that if you don’t get into college you can’t get a job, and if you can’t get a job you can’t raise a family.
“For kids with special needs, the anxiety is even more heightened because they’re trying to keep up with their classmates,” she said.
If the topic sounds guaranteed to grab students’ attention – though it’s actually targeted at parents – they might not be so enamored of Ms. Jacob’s suggestion for how parents can ease test anxiety in their children.
“The best method for reducing it is to teach them to prepare better,” she said.
She will offer advice on “how to get your kids to learn to take notes, to have study cues, to study with games and mnemonics. When they’re more prepared they’re going to be more relaxed before the test.”
That said, she is also an advocate of the idea that teachers do a better job at “differentiating the testing to better meet the needs of the kids. How as a teacher can you modify the way you’re testing? What do you want to test?
“Most of the teachers now don’t want the kids to just spit back information. They want to hear that the kids are critical thinkers.
“Maybe ‘mi amar l’mi'” – the old-fashioned staple of Israel Tanakh workbooks and exams, where students are asked to identify who said a Biblical quotation to whom – “is not as relevant any more as writing a paragraph about King David’s relationship with Jonathan.
“We’re trying to get the teachers to work in different ways.”
|Save the date|
|What: Yachad: The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, presents a conference, “Toward Successful Inclusive Classroom Environments”
When: Sunday, February 8, 12-8 p.m.; Monday, February 9, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Where: Congregation Keter Torah,
Fee: $120/day for educators; $36 for parents or $50 per family.
More information: Yachad.org/specialedconference