I am a child of God
And so my needs are great
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows to late.
As Primary teachers and leaders, we want all the children we teach to learn the gospel, have opportunities to feel the Spirit, and know that Heavenly Father and Jesus love them. It can be a challenge to do that when a single class can have a wide range of strengths, weaknesses, abilities, disabilities, family situations, attention spans, and maturity levels. It is even more challenging when children (approximately 12% in any given Primary) have physical, cognitive, behavioral, or emotional issues that affect their behavior and learning in Primary.
Fortunately, the Church has some wonderful resources for Primary teachers and presidencies. The first place to go is “Teaching and Expecting Appropriate Behavior”. This page has six interactive tutorials addressing ways we can encourage, teach, and reinforce appropriate behavior. Going through the tutorials, the biggest revelation for me was the idea that teachers are not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated in our little classrooms, but we actually have numerous resources ready and able to help, including:
• Parents (ESPECIALLY parents!)
• Primary presidencies (ward and stake)
• Bishopric members
• Other teachers (What worked last year?)
• Music leaders
• Home and visiting teachers
• Scouting and Activity Day leaders
• School counselors, teachers, and aides (when appropriate)
• Church publications and resources
• Prayer and personal revelation
The “Teaching Children with Disabilities” section also includes a number of links worth exploring, including pages that outline the specific “Responsibilities of the Ward Primary President” and “Responsibilities of the Primary Teacher” in regard to children with disabilities. These pages include helpful and creative ideas, such as creating a smaller age-group class in which to mainstream a special needs child, arranging the learning environment, and using a variety of teaching methods and sensory modes. Additional help can be found in “Teaching, No Greater Call” and numerous Church magazine articles addressing specific disabilities and mental illnesses.
Even with all these resources, nothing replaces good communication with parents. While a child’s disability may present a weekly challenge for a Primary teacher, it is an everyday reality for the child’s family. Parents can help teachers know and understand their children, describe what works for them, and offer specific suggestions. Teachers can support parents and families by giving parents the time to rest, fulfill callings, and worship; by reinforcing gospel lessons; and by showing the child and family Christlike love and acceptance.
And finally, remember that we can get help from our Heavenly Parent. He knows these children and he knows you, too. He has sent you here at this time to teach this child. As the song says, he will lead you, guide you, and walk beside you as you seek to teach the precious souls in your care. As you seek his help, he will inspire you to know what to do to meet each child’s special needs.