June 2024
Vol 21 No 6

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About Harry and Rosemary Wong...
Harry and Rosemary Wong are teachers. Harry is a native of San Francisco and taught middle school and high school science. Rosemary is a native of New Orleans and taught K-8, including working as the school media coordinator and student activity director.

Harry Wong has been awarded the Outstanding Secondary Teacher Award, the Science Teacher Achievement Recognition Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, and the Valley Forge Teacher's Medal. Rosemary was chosen as one of California's first mentor teachers and has been awarded the Silicon Valley Distinguished Woman of the Year Award.

Harry Wong is the most sought after speaker in education today. He has been called "Mr. Practicality" for his common sense, user-friendly, no-cost approach to managing a classroom for high-level student success.

More than a half-million teachers worldwide have heard his message. Because he is fully booked for two years, he has agreed to and has invited his wife to join him in doing a monthly column for Teachers.Net so that more people can hear their message.

About Their Work... Harry and Rosemary Wong are committed to bringing quality and dignity to the materials they produce. For this, they have formed their own publishing company, of which Rosemary is the CEO. They have dedicated their lives to leaving a legacy in education and making a difference in the lives of teachers and students.

The Wongs have written The First Days of School, the best-selling book ever in education. Over 2.4 million copies have been sold.

A third edition of The First Days of School has been released and includes an added bonus, an Enhanced CD featuring Harry Wong. The Enhanced CD, Never Cease to Learn, is dedicated to those teachers who know that the more they learn, the more effective they become.

The Wongs have also produced the video series The Effective Teacher, winner of the Telly Award for the best educational video of the past twenty years and awarded the 1st place Gold Award in the International Film and Video Festival.

They have released a new set of CDs, How To Improve Student Achievement, featuring Harry Wong as he speaks at one of his many presentations. He is the most sought after speaker in education and his presentations are legendary.

When the book, video series, and CD are used together, they form the most effective staff training tool for developing effective teachers. Staff developers and administrators who would like to know how to implement the aforementioned book, video series, and CD are encouraged to consult the book, New Teacher Induction:  How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. Information about these products can be found by visiting the publisher's website at or Best Sellers

The First Days of School
by Harry & Rosemary Wong

$23.96 from
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New Teacher Induction: How to Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers
by Annette L. Breaux, Harry K. Wong

$23.07 from
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The Effective Teacher (Video Set)
Presented by Harry Wong

8 VHS video tapes, binder with Facilitator's Handbook, book The First Days of School, and storage case, $795.00 from (volume discounts available)
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New Item

How to Improve Student Achievement
2 CD set
by Harry & Rosemary Wong

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Pathways: A Guide for Energizing & Enriching Band, Orchestra, & Choral Programs
by Joseph Alsobrook

$12.57 from
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Results : The Key to Continuous School Improvement
by Mike Schmoker

$20.95 from
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Improving Schools from Within : Teachers, Parents, and Principals Can Make the Difference
by Roland Sawyer Barth

$13.30 from
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A First-Year Teacher's Guidebook, 2nd Ed.
by Bonnie Williamson, Marilyn Pribus (Editor), Kathy Hoff, Sandy Thornton (Illustrator)

$17.95 from
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Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education
by Peter M. Senge (Editor), Nelda H. Cambron McCabe, Timothy Lucas, Art Kleiner, Janis Dutton, Bryan Smith

$24.50 from
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The Courage to Teach : Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life
by Parker J. Palmer

$16.76 from
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If You Don't Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students : Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers
by Neila A. Connors

$13.96 from
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Effective Teaching...
by Harry and Rosemary Wong

October 2004

The Saints of Education

The demands on the teachers of special education students are enormous.  The work is emotionally and physically draining.  The stress is considerable.  The magnitude of the workload is colossal with all of the mandated reporting and administrative tasks expected of them.  The cumulative effect of teaching the special education child causes many teachers to leave the profession after just a few years.

But those teachers who stay—those teachers with the patience to stay true to the task, those teachers with the skill to bring order to the confusion, those teachers with a kind and understanding heart to see all children as capable and worthy, those teachers who teach special education children—these are truly the “saints of education.”

Typical of these teachers is Robin Zarzour who works with children with a variety of disabilities—Autism, speech and language delays, ADHD, severe behavior, and with physical and developmental handicaps.  Robin teaches special education at First Step Preschool in Ohio’s Parma City Schools.

The First Step Preschool program is based on the following guidelines:

  1. Learning is developmental.  Children are provided the opportunity to learn at their own pace and with valuable hands-on experiences.
  2. Children can learn through play.  Ample play experiences are provided to develop decision-making abilities which integrate language, cognitive, social, adaptive, and motor skills.
  3. Self-concept is critical.  Parents and staff work together to encourage children’s efforts and accomplishments to motivate their love of learning.

Additional information on First Step Preschool can be found at

Robin’s students are three- to five-year olds.  Each of her classes can have up to eight special needs students and four typically developing peer children who serve as peer role models.  A typically developing peer is a youngster without identified disabilities who provides social interaction and motivation for preschoolers with special needs.  Because all children learn from watching and interacting with other children, typically developing peer models are an important part of First Step Preschool.

Robin’s classes meet for 2.5 hours a day, four days a week, with a morning and an afternoon session.

The Need for Structure

More than any other group of students, special education students need structure. All effective classrooms have structure. As we state in The First Days of School

  • All effective classrooms have structure.
  • Procedures + Routines = STRUCTURE
  • Effective teachers manage with procedures and routines.

Structure does not mean a classroom that resembles a prison or jail.  In fact, classrooms that resemble a totalitarian prison are those without any procedures or routines.  So, an ineffective teacher becomes a warden in that classroom just to survive the day.

Whereas, those classrooms that have a caring atmosphere, a safe environment, and a learning climate where children can succeed, are those where there is a CONSISTENCY the children can depend upon.

A student in an at-risk situation said, “I like coming to this school, because everyone knows what to DO.  No one yells at us and we can go on with learning.”

Special education students can be put in an at-risk situation if there is not a consistent set of procedures.  They like a consistent set of routines every day as it makes life familiar and friendly.

Preschool Procedures

After hearing me (Harry) at and in-service presentation and reading The First Days of School, Robin says, “I constantly think of procedures throughout the school day.”

To establish a consistent structure for her students, these are the procedures that Robin teaches the first day of school:

1.  The students come into the class and are assigned a locker.  They take off their coats and book bags and place them in their lockers.  The lockers have different colored nametags with a different picture on each nametag so each child can discriminate which one is theirs.

2.  The children play and she gives them a "two-minute warning" before clean up time.  Autistic children need time for transition, so a warning is given.  Robin starts to sing the "Clean Up" song:

Clean up clean up everybody clean up.
Clean up clean up everybody clean up.

The students, along with the adults, put the toys on the shelves.  This procedure helps the children to understand what "Cleaning Up" means.

3.  The children sit on the carpet for circle time.  Each child has his/her own assigned 'seat' depending on the needs of the individual child.  After a few days, they know where their seats are and circle time is ready to begin.  Robin sings the same opening circle song daily.  The children sing along and they are ready to participate in circle.

Hello, so glad you’re here; hello, so glad you’re here.
Hello, so glad you’re here; one two three, let’s give a cheer. Hooray.

There is also a schedule within the circle time (calendar, weather, story, song, game, then the gym).  The circle time schedule is consistent and the students like the consistency of the routine.

4.  After circle time the children line up along the wall and walk to the gym in a quiet fashion.  This procedure is taught from the first day.  If a child forgets the procedure, Robin simply says, "Remember the procedure." (See Chapter 20 in The First Days of School and

5.  In the gym, she alerts the children when there are two minutes left to play and she shows them where to line up.  Feet are painted on the gym floor so the children have a specific place to line up.

6.  Then the children go back to the classroom for snack time and hand washing.  They form in a line and Robin puts soap on each child's hands and helps rinse and dry them.  The children then go to their assigned seats (again depending on each child's needs), and once all the children are seated, the class then sings the snack song and the teachers disperse the food to each child.

It’s time for our snack; it’s time for our snack.
It’s time for us to eat and drink; it’s time for our snack.

The children have to ask for more juice and/or snack using their words or a picture communication board.  The children discard their cups and napkins and sit on the carpet to look at books.

7.  The children are then ready for small group time.  Three children go to the computer with the classroom assistant.  Four children do a table or floor activity with the teacher and four children do an activity by themselves (sand box, blocks, Play Dough®, etc).  After ten minutes, the children switch groups.   They know the routine and rotation of switching after a week. This sets the stage for cooperative learning and working together.

8.  To prepare for going home, the children get their coats and book bags and place them on the carpet.  The teacher, classroom assistants, and older preschoolers (five-year-olds) help the younger or more physically challenged preschoolers with fastening coats and boots.

9.  They sing the "Goodbye Song" and the children line up to go home.

It’s time to say goodbye to our friends (clap, clap).
It’s time to say goodbye to our friends (clap, clap).
Oh, it’s time to say goodbye, so just smile and wink your eye;
It’s time to say goodbye to our friends (clap, clap).

Throughout the class time, Robin uses many visuals, gestures, pictures, and objects to transition the students from one place to another.  These procedures are taught and reinforced daily.  No matter the needs of the child, each one benefits from the procedures.

In many special education classrooms there are assistants and therapists that come and go throughout the day and/or week.  Having a routine and procedures keeps the adults as well as the children on the same page, reinforcing the same practices throughout the day.

Robin says, “Teaching special education is very rewarding since these children are special angels.  Procedures make learning enjoyable for teachers, classroom assistants, therapist, students, and parents.”

They Are Valuable Human Beings

Special education is one of the fastest-growing areas in school budgets nationally.  The number of children in the United States who qualify for special education is up nearly 40 percent in the past decade.  This trend is expected to continue because of diagnosis of children at earlier ages and medical advances that have resulted in more children surviving critical accidents and illnesses.  The need for teachers qualified to teach special education will increase faster than the average for all occupations for the next 10 years.  School districts will continue to face a critical shortage of special education teachers.

Some 6.5 million children between ages three and twenty-one have been diagnosed with special needs and cost at least twice as much as other children to educate.  Young children with disabilities are provided with a free and appropriate education through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), yet the federal government only contributes about 18 percent of the some $50 billion (and rising) spent on special education annually.

Regardless of their numbers and the cost, special education students are valuable human beings and are guaranteed an education in America.  Teachers like Robin Zarzour and the many other special education teachers are to be commended for choosing this aspect of education as their profession.

Special education presents the biggest challenges to teachers and offers the most rewarding outcome—preparing a less than able child to function in a very demanding teen and adult world.  To accomplish this is no small task.  It is a job befitting a miracle worker, a guardian angel, a teacher who sees the potential and value of every child.

Give each student you encounter this year your very best—your patience, your skill, and your caring heart—and know that you will leave an indelible mark in the life of that child.  For that’s the charge of all teachers, to realize the potential of every child and make it happen for them.

For a printable version of this article click here.

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