Educating Peter

by PammyMcB

This video was made not to take sides with the controversy between integration of children with disabilities into regular education, but to give us some insight into the world of one little boy. It was made to help the general public understand what integration of children with disabilities means to everyone affected by such integration.

Major Points

Everyone, including the teacher, is afraid of Peter. As the film begins, we see how everyone’s attitudes toward Peter are more or less negative. Though the teacher clearly states that her role as a teacher is to educate every student in her classroom, she states that she is worried that something will go wrong. She stated that she must be vigilantly on guard in regard to Peter and the other students. She also states that she is frightened that something will happen when she is not there. The other children state that they are frightened of Peter. It seems to me that no one stopped to think how Peter must feel to be in an environment that he does not quite understand.

Peter’s behavior is a major issue throughout the film. As with many students with disabilities, Peter tends to act up more that the other kids. His behavior is inconsistent and unpredictable. In the beginning Peter is very aggressive. Peter kicks, hits, chokes, pushes, tackles, and bangs other students’ heads together. The teacher decided it was time to give the children a more active role in the classroom. She had the other students get involved in the “peer planning” process of the classroom. They asked the children if they knew why Peter acted up in the classroom. She asked for suggestions from the classroom on how to redirect Peter’s behavior. She taught them what they can and cannot do to help Peter. One of the things pointed out was that the children should not give Peter attention for negative behavior, but should give him attention for positive behavior. The teacher took a more active approach toward Peter’s behavior as well. First she gives him tangible consequences for his behavior. She gives him the choice to either talk to her now about his behavior, or to speak with her during recess about his behavior. Then, she asks him what he did wrong and relates the problem to him directly. She asks Peter if he would he like being treated the way he treats the other students? She then has him apologize for his behavior.

The other students’ attitudes toward Peter are a major point. They admitted that they stared because he does not look like any of them. They do not know what to think of Peter because he makes loud noises. One little boy wonders why Peter is even there. He says that Peter will probably not learn anything. In the beginning, before the peer planning, the other children would shove back. However, they learned how to deal with Peter without using force. This caused his outbursts to be less and less frequent. Later in the video the students in the classroom state that they enjoy having Peter around. One little boy thought that he would not like Peter in the beginning, but ended up considering Peter one of his best friends. The overall attitude toward Peter in the end was best summed up by a little freckle-faced girl, “He changed because we changed. He changed because we changed our minds about him. He changed because we helped him.”

Peter’s self image is an issue in the film. Peter’s mother said that Peter comes home from school and is very happy. He is also tired, but he is still happy that he is given the opportunity to go to school. He has less and less outbursts throughout the year, which leads me to believe that he is no longer frustrated about the classroom. He feels comfortable and is made to feel comfortable in the classroom. He realizes that it is just not Peter, but he is part of something bigger. This does not mean that Peter does not continue to get frustrated. When working on his own, Peter feels bad about himself because he does realize that he is not able to do the same things that the other children are doing. He complains, “I’m stupid.” The teacher responds, “No you’re not.” Again, Peter says, “I’m stupid.” Then the teacher states, “You are not, you are a smart little boy.”

In the end, everyone felt they benefited from having Peter integrated into the classroom. One girl in the classroom says that they may have taught him how to do things, but he taught them how to think more and react to other problems. The teacher stated that she would gladly teach Peter again, if given the opportunity. She changed her expectations from, “I don’t think you can do this” to “I expect you to do this because I know you can.” Peter benefited as well. He learned academics, social skills, and how to control his behavior. Peter made many great friends and the rest of the classroom gained one amazing friend.

Personal Reaction

This is my favorite video by far. Watching this movie was a rollercoaster ride. To start with I, of all people, thought maybe there should be a limit for what types of children are integrated into regular education classrooms. I was taken back. I did not think I would ever feel that way about this topic. Me of all people, I have an uncle who is mentally retarded, and realize how unfair it was that he was always separated from the rest of the students. Me of all people, I have a son who I have fought all of his school years to keep him with his peers. I wonder if this was just my mothering response kicking in. I have been in a similar situation with Damien. At one point in his life he was extremely aggressive toward his little brother. When I caught him choking his little brother, and his little brother’s face turning blue, I wondered if Damien and Dylan would be better off if my husband and I separated residences taking only one to each home. I could not bear to do this and had to find another way to deal with the problem. From time to time, not very often, Damien is still aggressive toward Dylan, but Dylan knows how to handle the problem now. Peter, like Damien, just seemed so out of control and a danger to himself, and the other students. I understand that children like Peter, my uncle, and my son get frustrated so easily, but it seemed so unfair to the other students who were getting injured in the process. However, after the teacher implemented the peer planning process to the classroom, the out-of-control behavior began to subside. This made me cry because I thought I would be the last person to discriminate against anyone with a disability. I realize now that I am not perfect, and was too quick to judge Peter. I know that Peter was introduced to an entirely new environment that he had not been prepared for, and this must have been overwhelming and difficult for him. He did learn to adjust, which seemed to surprise everyone involved.

Application

I will not be quick to judge a student with disabilities. I will make sure that the other children in the classroom understand why the student acts the way they do, and give them ideas on how to solve the problem without the use of force. I will also be more accepting to all students and make sure that I am patient with them.

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