Congrats, Teacher! You have a military child in your class, and you’re the proud educator of a resilient and interesting student. This child has likely lived in multiple states, and perhaps several different countries, but will need some help from you to make this year a success.
First, welcome this family with open arms. Send out a welcome email or phone call to them, even if they come in the middle of the year; this is a great policy to have for all of your students’ families, every single school year. Let them know about your classroom policies, homework practices, and the basic curriculum.
Next, ask about their last school. The student may have come from another state, and potentially a different set of educational standards, so find out how they did on the state assessments, and ask if you can take a peek at any report cards or comments from the last school. You might also want to contact previous teachers, if your student’s family feels comfortable with this.
Does this student have an Individual Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan? If so, get eyes on that document as soon as possible, and hopefully before the first day of school. Remember this is a legal education plan that needs to be put into place as soon as possible. Check with the family to ensure the special education department and school administration also have copies of this document. Since these documents are transferring from another district, the student will need to be evaluated by your district within 60 days. This could result in more services, the same services, or even the end of services if a student no longer qualifies for special education services.
Everyone is nervous on the first day of school; it’s twice as tough for a military kid. He or she is coming into a school where social groups are established and there is a shared history–he is perpetually the “new kid.” Make that first day, or week, easier for her. Use icebreakers to help your students get comfortable with each other. Good examples are Two Truths and a Lie, partner interviews, creating a flag to depict themselves, icebreaker BINGO, or a find-your-partner guessing game.
Play to your student’s strengths. If they’ve lived in Okinawa, and your grade studies Japanese history or culture, ask the child to share their experiences. Or ask one, or both, parents to visit your class. If the student has a passion for history, or reading, or science, enlist them to help you create teachable moments or create depth in your lessons. A military child has a lot of experiences, and sharing their knowledge will help other students get to know and respect the new addition to their school.
Find out which topics your military student already knows or has covered in depth. For many MilKids, they have covered many topics over and over again due to moves and differences in education pacing. These students might also have gaping holes in their knowledge because of these same factors. If there are gaps, try and fill them through additional assignments, one-on-one teaching time, or by recommending resources to parents. If a student seems to have mastery of a topic, you should try and extend their knowledge and skills through enrichment activities. You can find many ideas for both remediation and extension online.
Keep meticulous records on this student. Your records are probably excellent to begin with, but for military children, exceptional records are crucial. As they move school to school, between Common Core States, international schools, DoDEA schools, and state-created educational standards, things can get lost in the shuffle. Think about the next teacher, and the next school. Think about what you wish you had known on day one, and include that in the file.
Be real, be reliable, and communicate. Don’t pander to this child, or his family. Be honest about any academic or social concerns you have, and talk about them sooner, rather than later. Military families are proactive! Don’t just save communication for the negatives. Let her parents know how she is settling in, if she has made a close friend, and when she demonstrates exceptional character.
As a teacher, you have the unique opportunity to make a mark on the lives of children. An excellent teacher can change a child’s life, and this is especially true for our resilient and interesting military children.
Are you a teacher with military kids in your classroom? Do they make your classroom more dynamic?
Posted by Marguerite Flanagan, M.Ed, founder of MilKids Education Consulting, a blog focusing on military and special needs children offering practical tips, fun ideas, and advice on decoding the very dense special education laws.