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Nikki Salvatico


"There are so many memorable moments in my teaching each day," first grade teacher told Education World. "Each baby step a child takes is a great celebration! Letting a child know you care, that he or she is important to you, and that what he or she does is important, is what makes my job wonderful. I can only say, that seeing children begin to believe in themselves and realize they are important and making great strides, is why I teach and am so grateful."

Part of what fuels the commitment of this first grade teacher and enables her to empathize with the frustration and heartache of parents is her experience as a mother. She and her husband noted difficulties and developmental gaps in their daughter, Brielle, when she was only three years old. Although they pursued their concerns, they received varied support until Brielle came home from first grade and told her mother, "Mommy, my thinking doesn't meet"

"It broke my heart," recalled Salvatico. "It was at that moment I knew I needed to push and advocate for Brielle. In second grade, she was diagnosed with learning disabilities. Her third grade teacher did an awesome job of meeting her needs without support from the special education classroom. In fourth grade, although her teacher truly taught and assessed to her needs, we agreed that it was time to place her into the special education classroom for services. It took a while, and I learned a lot about early intervention. Had I had my teaching certificate earlier in Brielle's life, I never would have waited so long to have her placed. That's why I'm so passionate about early identification, and educating and supporting parents."

Because Salvatico has been on the other side of the table listening to educators speak candidly about the challenges her own child faced, a barrier is broken with the parents she meets today. The most important advice she shares with her students' parents is:

  • You are your children's advocates. You travel through their entire educational career. I am only with them one year and can only do so much. It's up to you to continue advocating for them!
  • You have the opportunity to "write your children's ticket for success" by addressing their needs and making sure they receive the appropriate delivery of their education. When a baby is little, he cannot say, "Buckle me in my car seat to make me safe," and no one else is there to tell you to do that. Identifying your own child's academic needs is the same. Ultimately, it's up to you, the parents, to agree with the appropriate placement for your child. You can deny your child future successes, or you can write his or her ticket to success.

In teaching first graders at General Wayne Elementary School in Malvern, Pennsylvania, Salvatico's philosophy is that every child has a wonderful unique gift and talent, and that he or she can use that gift to overcome areas that are more challenging. She seeks to identify strengths and weaknesses early, so she can help create strategies and a positive learning environment that promotes strengths and builds self-esteem.

Salvatico watches for signs that help her target strategies or pathways that should be pursued. She constantly "picks the brains" of such experts as the school's occupational therapists, speech and language specialist, and others. Then she focuses in on children who display consistent inconsistencies.

"These children usually appear to have consistent difficulties in different areas (displaying problems consistently), yet certain inconsistent behaviors are displayed that raise a red flag for me," explained Salvatico. "Some examples might be difficulty in reading: A child will have to work out a word in a passage, but when the child sees that same word on the next page or sentence, he or she will have to work it out again. The child doesn't see that it's the same word. That could be caused by one of many issues, such as memory, visual discrimination, and so on. You have to learn what makes your students tick."

When looking for evidence of learning problems, Salvatico advises teachers to "go with your gut." Often teachers feel when something isn't right, and they shouldn't be quick to ignore their intuition.

"Children who appear not to hear or follow directions often can be experiencing auditory difficulties," added Salvatico. "Children who have difficulties keeping their desk and papers or notebooks organized or who constantly are losing things can have motor planning difficulty. Difficulty reading or sloppy handwriting can be indicative of visual functional deficits.

"Overall, when a child displays behavioral difficulties or signs of inattention, it often is a sign of a learning challenge, rather than an attention deficit disorder. You should contact the parents and discuss whether they see similar signs at home."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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