‘These are the cutest kids out there’

It required ‘a lot of getting used to’, says Van der Meijden about the transition from mainstream to special education. She tells about a student who threw a piece of paper on the floor. “I told him to clean up. That he should listen to me.” The student refused. “The discussion lasted almost two hours,” laughs Van der Meijden. “I didn’t want to give in. He had thrown it on the floor and I thought he should clean it up too.” Finally, a colleague intervened. “You’ll still be here tomorrow,” he told me. “Then I have to call your partner that you’re not coming home because of a piece of paper on the floor.” I could hang in there or move on. In the end I fetched the wad myself and we continued with the lesson.”

The cutest kids out there

Van der Meijden works as a mentor teacher in first grade at the VSO Heuvelrug College in Zeist. She has twelve students with, among other things, autism, ADHD, attachment problems and trauma. “They are my children, the most beautiful children there are,” she says. “When I started working in special education, I didn’t know what I would get again. But I have learned a lot in recent years.” Flexibility – as with the cotton wool, and punctuality e.g. “I’m always the last one to arrive at parties and it’s usually chaotic to make an appointment with me.” Still, she is on time for class every day. “If I start later, it causes so much unrest that it is unstoppable. The consequences are too great.”

She talks about a student with cerebral palsy due to lack of oxygen at birth. “When he left the hospital the doctors told him he would never be able to walk. Now he plays football on a regular team. These kids try so hard. It also encourages me as a teacher to always get the best out of myself.” Thus, Van der Meijden does not focus on future diplomas, tests or exams. “We do not focus on language errors or the sum of 3 + 3. We primarily teach the children to become good citizens.”

Children also came along after school

In Van der Meijden’s class, for example, there is attention to self-love, use of social media, how to pronounce arguments and how to travel by bus. “And when we talk about applying for jobs, we cover not only how to write a good letter, but also how to handle the nerves of a first interview.” VSO Heuvelrug College has its own practice office and also follows the children after school. “Some are doing well, they work at Albert Heijn, a car company or in a beauty salon. Other students are still looking for a job. Society does not always take these children into consideration. Although they have a lot to give.”

Mission as Teacher of the Year

She sees it as her mission as Teacher of the Year to emphasize how valuable and interesting her students are. Just like working in special education. In general education, the teacher shortage is 9 percent, in special education it is 13 percent. Many PABOs find it difficult to let their students do internships in special pedagogy. She thinks it’s unfair, because even if you don’t want to work there later, that experience makes you a better and more flexible teacher. “At a normal school, the lesson goes as expected nine times out of ten. Not in special education, then you really feel whether you are well prepared.”
At the same time, the dropout rate among teachers is also high, says Van der Meijden. “Teachers switch to special education because they are looking for a new challenge, but then you should not come to us. You really have to be interested in the behavior the student shows and why.” It is Van der Meijden’s second mission.

She will encourage teachers to look beyond a student’s behavior. Some children shout ‘Miss, Miss, Miss’ twenty times an hour. It’s exhausting. I can complain and make amends, but then it won’t be a pleasant day. I therefore try to observe the child and find out why he or she behaves this way. I talk with the parents and other teachers to help the student resolve the uncertainty or other underlying problem. It makes work much more fun.”

Van der Meijden is regularly asked if working in special education is not intense. “But it’s a party,” she says. The students are honest and have a good sense of humor. They give sincere compliments and are grateful. “If I’m not there for a day, I’m sometimes told that I’ve failed them. “Are you actually trying to say you missed me?” I ask. ‘Yes miss’ I am told. Very funny!”

Third person

As a teacher at ROC, she instructed her students to pick up their books and get to work. Things are different at her new school. “I first announce that the teacher will speak louder. Not because the teacher is angry, but because she has to explain something.” And when I’m done, I don’t ask ‘do you understand?’ but ‘did the teacher explain it well?’ Therefore, I put the responsibility on myself.” The explanation in the third person ensures that children with autism also understand it more easily. She uses the word ‘not’ as little as possible.
Van der Meijden developed e-learning through his own training business about how you as a teacher look beyond behavior, how you deal with sexuality or ownership. She also created a podcast series with behavioral experts and gives masterclasses. “I sometimes hear; “Don’t take your job so seriously.” But I do. I work on it all day.”

By: National Education Guide / Marjolein Kooyman

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