Ivančica Tajsl, is a primary teacher from Croatia. She was born in Zagreb, in a family of educators. Today she works in Zagreb at the Trnjanska Elementary School. Ivancic is a counsellor, as well. Coincidentally, she is recognized as someone who can respond to the needs of children who have developmental difficulties or special needs. Because of this, she has had children with disabilities in her class for the last 5 generations. She wrote the book “Be as good as Jan is”. The book is written as a diary of a teacher who has a student with Down syndrome in the classroom. She believes that every student is special in something and valuable for the community in which they are educated. Her motto is that everyone is best at something: someone draws beautifully, someone writes beautifully, someone sings beautifully, someone runs faster, so the approach to hem as individuals must be different. Inclusion is her field of activity and it is the area she feels safe and professional.
My school is in Zagreb, capital of Croatia. A particular set of circumstances has led to me having several pupils with special needs in my classroom. Due to this, I was recognized as someone good at piloting inclusion. Inclusion was introduced in Croatian’s schools a few decades ago. Support is extremely important for us teachers because we do not have enough knowledge or experience to work with children with special needs. After years of implementing inclusion in my classroom, I can say that I am able to help anyone who is struggling with inclusion in his/her school. I have found myself in this ‘trouble’ when Jan enrolled in regular school. To be honest, I did not want that. He was my first pupil who has had Down syndrome. Jan has had a teacher assistant who was with him every day in the classroom and he also got an individualized school program. I was teaching Jan, accepting inclusion and integration, but also, I was learning besides him. Jan graduated from primary school. Our goal was that Jan learns how to write and read during the eight years in primary school. He has done that in two years.
I have to highlight the fact that this success was a result of mutual work among Jan’s assistants, his parents, me, but mostly Jan himself. When Jan started high school, I have gotten my third pupil with Down syndrome. My guiding thought was – “Every child is different, someone can paint well, someone can read nicely, someone is a gifted singer, and someone is great at math”. I have known then, and I now even better now, that no two children are the same. Children with Down syndrome are even more different one from another. With every one of them (I have had four different pupils with Down syndrome), I had to start from the beginning. I had to learn how to work with them, how to teach them and how to live in a world full of differences. Besides them, I have improved myself, I have learnt a lot about tolerance and dissimilarities, and I have learnt about inclusion and its benefits. Their successes are also my successes. Because of them, I am growing every day and becoming happier, more satisfied and better, both as a teacher and as a person. I have written a book called ‘Budi dobar kao Jan’ (Be kind, just like Jan is). It is a teacher’s diary written during the four years of coexistence of myself, my pupils and Jan in the same classroom.
In this book, I was writing about accidents, adventures and mishaps that happened in my classroom with Jan. Also, I was writing about problems we have encountered and searches for the teaching assistants at the begging of every school year. In this book, you can also find some nice and meaningful moments between the teacher and her pupils who have a child with special needs among them. The whole class was doing everything in their power to make Jan feel that he is accepted and cherished. After graduating from primary school, Jan also graduated from high school and today he is an assistant chef and is currently looking for a job. Set of circumstances has led me into the world of inclusion and I have become a “living textbook” for teachers in this part of Europe who find themselves in similar situations and do not know where to find help. Due to lack of literature, my experience has become the primary source of information for overcoming challenges in inclusive classrooms.
Again, a set of circumstances has led to enrolling a girl from Jordan in my classroom. Her name is Samah, she does not speak Croatian or English, and she has become part of my classroom during the Covid-19 pandemic. That was a great challenge for both me and my pupils. We were communicating very creatively. We were using pictures, photos, pantomime, movements, dance and songs. Samah has quickly learnt a few Croatian words but pretty soon schools were closed due to pandemic. Samah was sad, but I was feeling even really sorry because I could not reach her anymore. I was communicating with my pupils through emails, phone calls and classroom’s webpage, but Samah has not been joining us. She does not know the language and this form of communication was not good for her. One month before school ended, we were back in our classroom. Samah and I picked up where we left off in February. She did not prosper at home, but I firmly believe that we will compensate in the next school year. Whatever next school year brings to the table; I will have to find the best way to communicate with Samah.
There is no specific pedagogy for teaching children with special needs in classic schooling, and certainly, there is no specific pedagogy for teaching them in online schooling. Teachers in inclusive classrooms have been using child-oriented pedagogy to answer the needs of every pupil. In my experience, other teachers in “classic classrooms” have been using teacher-oriented pedagogy. In my opinion, online schooling is a chance to discard the classic division between child-oriented pedagogy and teacher-oriented pedagogy. There is a traditional view on education in Croatia and this part of Europe, with a lot of memorizing and learning by heart involved. Parts of child-oriented pedagogy can be used in both classic and online classrooms. I am always trying to emphasize that if we want to develop inclusive pedagogical practice, we have to change our behaviour in classrooms. Changes are hard for everybody, so online schooling is a great chance to start from the begging. I am using this time to prepare for new challenges and for the difficulties that this new “hybrid” school year will bring.