‘This is Our Work:’ Teachers are the Elders for Today’s Children

AUNE’s new Holistic Special Education concentration can help educators learn to build safe places for children overwhelmed by a frenzied  world, said Kim John Payne, keynote speaker at the conference Can We Do it Better? Alternative Approaches to Special Education, held at AUNE May 22. Payne, MEd ’01, is the founding director of the Center for Social Sustainability in Northampton, Massachusetts, and author of Simplicity Parenting and The Games Children Play.

In every child there is a quirk that is the seed of a child’s genius, but also the seed of their challenges and struggles, he said. Today’s frantic pace and information overloada sensory tsunami disorient children with constant stress, inflame their quirks, and push them toward disorders such as obsessiveness or hyperactivity.

Educators, often the refuge where children turn, can help them regain a proper balance between their inner world and a frenetic, often hostile outer world. That allows them to open up to learning and to the possibility of human encounter. The beauty of the Holistic Special Education program is that we need to be able to see a child’s world as a whole, Payne said.

Today’s teachers often fulfill the role of elders in a conflict-averse society that no longer has rites of passage and coming-of-age ceremonies to initiate children into adulthood. [Educators] are carrying much of what has been carried by long traditionaccompanying children through their struggles, Payne said. That’s our work, that’s our stuff, that’s what we do.

The conference included a panel of regional educators who discussed their schools’ transition to inclusive educational models, as well as workshops.

It was a great day, very worthwhile, said Jen Kershaw, ’11, who earned a certificate from AUNE’s Waldorf Teacher Education program. I really appreciated the interactive capacity of the workshops and the resources that were offered.

The Holistic Special Education concentration, part of AUNE’s Elementary Education Teacher Certification master’s program, prepares students for a dual state certification by studying both elementary and special education. The degree prepares a graduate for a job as a special education educator, as a general classroom teacher, or both. It begins this fall.

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