Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Look Beyond the Labels

Too many times I’ve seen a student labeled with a disability and the teacher teaches to the disability rather than to the student. Over the years I’ve taught low level students, students with learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, mental disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, and traumatic brain injuries. I know the federal government has to have labels in order for funding for the schools but as a teacher, I refused to let the label be more important than the student’s needs.

For example, I taught a girl with a learning disability for 3 years. She was reading on a 3rd grade level and math on a 4th grade level by 11th grade. I was making a lot of progress with her and she had a future in pursuing the career she wanted by attending the vocational school. Federal law required that we reevaluate her every 3 years and the district decided that she needed to be retested. Poof! She suddenly became mentally disabled instead of learning disabled. This meant she was taken from my class and put in a class where the teacher did a lot more coloring and babysitting (I felt this teacher was getting burned out). The student’s self esteem plummeted and learning slowed tremendously. Next thing I know she is pregnant and then drops out of school. I really feel if I was able to continue to teach her that would never have happened. For years I felt guilty that I didn’t find some way to fight the system and I vowed from then on not to let labels dictate my teaching.

As teachers, we need to look beyond the labels and really look at what the student needs. If the student is a behavior problem, look at when and why the behavior occurs. Some teachers tend to get caught up in the day to day procedures and don’t take the time needed to analyze behaviors. If the students are not making passing grades, I looked at why. It might be because the student wasn’t studying (so a phone call home was necessary) or not turning in work (maybe a daily agenda is necessary) or the student really didn’t understand the concept (so reteaching is vital). I learned this “modify and adjust” during college but I wasn’t sure I was really doing it in my classroom. Once I made a conscious effort to do this, I noticed that my students were achieving more and the attitude in the classroom was more positive.


Joel said...

As a musician, I learned to "modify and adjust" all throughout my playing career. I find that it is very prominent in my teaching as well.

As far as label go, I will look at accommodations when I receive them, but really don't focus on them too much. I try to focus on meeting the educational and personal needs of every student, whether they have a label or not.

loonyhiker said...

Joel: We need more teachers like you! Can we clone you??? Meeting the needs of the students is most important and I'm so glad to hear you reinforce that idea!

Mathew said...

I posted something similar to this about seeing beyond students' labels. http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog/?p=75