Teacher Sherwin Persaud was “drowning” on the floor of his summer school classroom. His para, Carol Watson, was in a four-person lifeboat that Persaud had blown up. Persaud had created the immersive scenario for the summer curriculum, Cruise to Europe, where his students with disabilities were learning about safety in different travel situations.
Watson threw him a life preserver attached to a rope and, with the help of some of their students, he was pulled to safety — only to “drown” again the next day. “It’s all about repetition,” Persaud said. “With my kids, you have to do it more than once for them to get it.”
Persaud is starting his second year as a teacher in District 75, where he was a paraprofessional for 11 years. As a para, he worked with older students and some with physical disabilities. But he found his niche in the younger grades, working with autistic children and those with behavioral issues at P233 in Forest Hills, Queens.
“I have a way with them,” he said. “I’m observant. I talk to them softly. They see I am calm and I am here for them.”
He loves the energy of children in kindergarten through 2nd grade. “I feed off that,” Persaud said. “It’s also the age when you have to groom them, get them ready for adulthood. It’s a challenge, and I like challenges.”
Working with young children requires patience and a certain attitude, he said. “They can tell when you’re upset so you can’t show that or the day is going to be very bad for everyone.”
Persaud isn’t easily rattled, a quality that also served him well during nine years as a chapter leader. “Staff members would call me and expect an answer right away,” he remembers. They were often impatient, but Persaud didn’t flinch. He did his research to make sure his reply was accurate.
As a teacher, teamwork is a hallmark of his practice. “I take everyone’s opinions into account with whatever I do,” Persaud said. “It’s a team effort, and there is no ‘I’ in team.”
When he was a para, Persaud said, “I worked with different teachers and different paras. I learned from each of them, and I brought that into my teaching.” Now, if his paras want to share an idea they think will work, he tells them, “Bring it on.”
During his first year of teaching, Persaud’s pockets were often empty. “I had to buy calendars, a printer, a laminating machine,” he said.
For the summer school lesson, Persaud started by laminating pictures to familiarize the students with a lifeboat, a life preserver, a life jacket, sunglasses, suntan lotion and more. He took a second set of pictures and added Velcro so the students could match them up with the laminated pictures. Finally, he went to Big Lots and bought the items.
“I’m a visual learner,” Persaud said. “I have to have the materials in front of me. It’s the same with this population. A lot of these kids are not exposed to the things we are teaching. It’s good to show them.”
His students took turns putting on the life jacket in class. “You had to see the smiles on their faces,” Persaud said.
“If you have them sitting, reading a book for 10 minutes, they get bored,” he explained. “They start looking around and up at the ceiling; they get distracted and want to walk around. They don’t focus,” he said. “So, I do a lot of role play and games. If you make it fun, I guarantee they will learn.”