The first few visits to the 3rd Elementary School of Stavroupoli in Thessaloniki were very different from my past pre-practicum experience. I was placed in a special needs classroom where I worked with students individually. In every way, I had to adapt to the situation. This was my first time working with students with special needs and I was unsure of how to do so with such a strong language barrier and cultural differences. Despite being unable to speak Greek, I have quickly picked up on the classroom routine and expectations.
My CT, Mr. T, has set up the classroom to be very focused on individualized teaching. There are only ever two students in his room at a time, which allows him to work hands-on with the students. The desks are closely spaced so that he can overlook both students at the same time from his desk. Since he has both Martin and I to help him, the students definitely receive the benefit of individualized attention in a small classroom. The students come in for an hour of lessons in the subjects they have difficulty with. Here, Mr. T has an assigned box of worksheets for each student to complete. The room is filled with educational tools and games to help students learn.
Mr. T expects work completion by the end of the week, rather than the day. Realizing that the students have good and bad days, he allows them room to work at their own pace. He also rewards the students with candies when he sees them put in a lot of effort. Mr. T is very understanding that the students require extra support and deals with conflicts as they occur. For instance, some of the students have a hard time sitting still for a long time and start to fidget and walk around. When this happens, Mr. T will get up and gently guide them back to their desk. He is very supportive of the students because of his flexibility. He recognizes that they will make mistakes and swiftly steps in to help them correct it. There do not appear to be any formally stated rules or expectations from the students other than the expectations that they will do their work. I have yet to see any codes of conduct posters or consequence charts. He has also not expressed to us any particular expectations that he has set for the students.
In some ways, his classroom is easier to manage because there are such few students in it each hour. He is able to give more of his attention to each student, which helps them focus and complete their work. On the other hand, sometimes it is very difficult to get these students to comply with the environment of the classroom. Sometimes the students get unruly, which is very difficult for me to address due to my limited Greek. When this happens, Mr. T will scold them but does not administer any punishment or consequence system. He also shares the students’ progress with their assistants who take care of them in between classes.
The system is a lot more relaxed than what I’m used to in America. Since this is my first time working in a special education classroom, I am unsure of what would be standard in the US. I often wonder if this classroom management style is influenced more because the students have special needs or if it complies with the relaxed way of Greek life. Would establishing a formal set of rules and consequences in this classroom be beneficial? Despite the relaxed structure of the classroom, the students respond well to Mr. T and to us. I am looking forward to getting to know the students more and learning more about the education system here!