Monday, 16 January 2017 12:03

Jaclyn Smalley

jaclyn smalley

When I was both a special education and an elementary education teacher, it was a huge priority for me to teach children how to become more independent.

I taught for four years in Lebanon, Oregon, where I helped children with special needs transition from self-contained programs to a more inclusive program. I taught children with every kind of special education label, but the majority of children on my caseload were identified with learning disabilities. After teaching in Oregon, my husband and I took action to fulfill one of our lifelong dreams—to teach overseas. That landed us in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where we taught at an international school with over 500 students. I taught 9-year-olds for the next three years, and I loved it! I learned that children, even from privileged positions, still need to be taught “life skills” and some even have special learning needs in the classroom.

After teaching in Almaty, my husband and I transferred to an international school in Minsk, Belarus, where we currently work. I still teach 9-year-olds, and I also get to teach 12-year-olds for one period each day. In these last couple years, I began to take more significant, research-based measures to teach children how to take more control over their learning and their lives. In the spring of 2016, my husband and I decided to make student autonomy the focus of our research for our master’s degree. We learned extremely valuable information about helping students become more autonomous regarding their education, and we are still applying these principles in our classrooms.