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Who’s the Boss?: Culturally Relevant Curriculum to Support Students' Social Emotional Needs

The practice that this inquiry falls under is Culturally Relevant Curriculum. I work as a teacher at the high school level in a self-contained classroom for students classified with learning disabilities and emotional disturbance. My first year of teaching I was a Special Education Teacher in a Self-Contained English Language Arts with 11th and 12th graders in a Queens high school. The class was a diverse population of students who had limited text literacy, low graduation rates, and many issues at home. 
From the beginning, the situation begged the question, “How can I manage my students so they learn, graduate, and transition into society after high school?” Initially, my students seemed to not have an interest in learning because they were defensive about having their academic weaknesses exposed to a new teacher. They often refused to do any work and were very disruptive. The classroom was chaotic. In addition, my efforts at teaching seemed to be getting me nowhere and I was not seeing any signs of progress.
An additional pressure was that the classes I teach terminate in the English Language Arts Regents Exam or the Reading and Writing Regents Competency Tests. I was concerned that these students would never be prepared to take the exams in January even though they had a second chance in June. Many of my students have serious problems outside of school that take over their lives and are overwhelming distractions.
Diagnosed emotional disturbances coupled with a learning disabilities classification makes caring about school an obstacle even for the best-intentioned and most dedicated student. I realized that I needed to establish a trusting, caring, and nurturing environment in my classroom before I could even scratch the surface of academic learning. Changing negative behaviors into constructive  behaviors became a necessary part of my teaching practice.