What is Life Skills Special Education?

If you have read previous blog posts, or follow me on Instagram, you have read that I am a teacher. Specifically, I teach high school life-skills special education. I thought I would take a minute to explain what life-skills special education is.

I am currently in my tenth year of teaching special education. I have spent all ten years within the same school district and within the special education department. I love teaching in a high school! The school spirit, energy and every day learning is simply exciting to be a part of. So much growth occurs within a high school. Students enter as young fourteen-year-old teens, and leave as young men and women about to venture into the collegiate or working world. As high school teachers, our goal is post-secondary preparation, regardless of ability levels and future career placements.
Students enrolled in a life-skills program within the state of Illinois can receive services until their 22nd birthday. This means I work with students between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two years old. Our district has an amazing transition program, so now many of my students stay with me until their senior year. Following graduation from my campus, they will continue their education until they are twenty-two years old at a different site within our district.

Life-skills programs are sometimes referred to as: specialized instruction, individualized programs, multi-needs classrooms… etc. Each district and school might identify a similar program differently. At the end of the day, my students are literally working on daily living skills. It is my goal to prepare them to live as independently as possible as adults, obtain employment and to be active members within our community. This is a huge responsibility! I do not take lightly my impact on the success of my students.
A Life-Skills classroom is unique in that one set curriculum is not followed. Teachers meet the individual needs of each and every learner within their classroom. This is why the state of Illinois puts a limit on how many students can be enrolled in such classrooms. We cannot exceed thirteen learners within one classroom setting. (I hope you know this means we would require a second classroom be opened, not that a student would be turned away!) I do not have one textbook I follow, or a semester exam I must administer. I teach a main concept, but then break it down for each student in my room. I meet them at their individual level. I would not be able to do this without the support and efforts of my classroom paraprofessionals, or classroom aides.

What are daily living skills? Daily living skills can mean: learning to care for yourself properly, telling time, reading calendars or work schedules, learning vocational (work) skills, reading safety words, community participation, cooking skills… etc. Each school’s ‘Life Skills’ classroom is unique in what is taught. The ability levels of students within life-skills programs vary, as well. While we might work on some of the skills I listed above, another life-skills classroom may not. Life-Skills is definitely student-centered!
When I say, “my students stay with me until they graduate”, I am implying that I am their main instructor for four years. I teach my students all academic content areas, and I get to teach them their freshman through senior year. I love that my program is set up this way! I really get to know my learners, pick up right where we left off after any time off, and really see growth at a whole new level. Watching freshmen grow before your eyes into hard-working adults is incredibly rewarding.

One of the highlights of our school year is the annual Special Games event! Special Games is an event my school district hosts for the high schools within our area. Student athletes participate in a variety of events, such as; team relay, sprints, basketball toss, ring toss.. etc. This amazing event begins each year with an all-school send-off. The entire school lines the main hallway of our school building. Everyone cheers our athletes on as the marching band leads them out and onto their contests. Once we arrive at the Special Games event, another parade takes place. Every participating school is announced and welcomed. The National Anthem is sung and the torch is lit by senior athletes. The day is unbelievable. The energy, support and happiness is indescribable. Each school that attends Special Games brings a spirit wall (pictured below). Several schools, ours included, pick a theme for the Games. The athletes and their peer leaders go all out dressing to each theme (some themes pictured below).
I have been attending this event since I was a sophomore in high school. I attended this event as a peer leader, came back during my college years to volunteer and now attend annually as a special education teacher! This event has grown so much. Below are some pictures, so you can see just how fun Special Games is for the entire community! Special Games 2018 is right around the corner. I will make sure to share some highlights of our day with you all.
Pictured above: Spirit walls on display. Walls created by athletes and their peer leaders.
Pictured above: My school’s spirit wall from 2015- ‘America’ theme.
Pictured above: Student athletes and peers leaders representing our ‘West Coast Warrior’ theme.
Pictured above: Special Games has become such a large event for our communities.

I appreciate you taking the time to better understand my one classroom within a large high school. It is my home away from home. When people ask, “How are the kids?” I have to stop and think, “Are they asking about my students or my children?”

Jess. xo