This really hit home for me when I think about how many of my special education students have been written off by other teachers. My students were slower the students in general education classes because their disability caused them to process information in a different way. In my school, my self contained students were mainstreamed for two general education elective classes in addition to the five classes with me for academic subjects. Even though I had a student who had extreme difficulty reading words, he could take apart a car engine and put it back together again. I had another student who went through a traumatic emotional experience but she was so artistic, the art teacher wanted her to take upper level art courses. These are just a couple of examples of what my students could do and even though I would focus on their strengths in order to work on their weaknesses, other teachers wrote them off as “slow.”
One teacher stands out though because she was willing to work with me and students to get around their learning difficulties. Keep in mind though that when she first found out that two of my students would be in her broadcast journalism class, I thought she would blow a gasket. She was quite concerned about teaching them because she was responsible for the newspaper and the daily TV news program made by the students. J. had Down Syndrome and D. was Mentally Disabled/Autistic. We worked closely together to decide what skills they could do and what accommodations would be made. In fact, we probably touched base at least once a week. By the end of the year, D. was the weatherman on our daily news channel and J. helped with the equipment. The other students loved them and were pretty protective towards them but I really feel this attitude came from the teacher and how she treated my students. In fact, the teacher’s attitude changed so much over the year that she requested that they take second year of her course the following year. This teacher was amazing because she overcame her doubts and was so willing to try to work with my students. She could have said they were too “slow” and found reasons why they shouldn’t be in her class, but she didn’t.
My husband was a terrible student when he was in high school and from the stories he tells me, I’m sure that his teachers would have considered him slow. He ended up going in the navy and getting his GED. I have to say (don’t think I’m prejudiced just because he is my husband) but I think he is the most intelligent man I have ever known. As a student he didn’t fit into the mold that other students did and teachers seemed to write him off. I’m proud to say that he recently retired from being a judge and I can’t tell you how many law books he has read. What might have been considered “slowness” in school, tends to be seen as “deliberateness” as an adult and comes in handy when making a decision that could alter a person’s life. Former teachers are shocked when they hear he married a teacher and became a judge. He loves to read textbooks, manuals, and anything that teaches him something new because there is noone pressuring him on how he should be learning.
Maybe that is why many students are not successful and drop out of school. Are we worrying too much on how they are learning something instead of being concerned that they are actually learning the concepts and skills we want them to learn? When I taught my students how to do a certain math skill, there was usually more than one way to come up with the solution. Is doing it the exact way the teacher demands more important than coming up with the correct answer as a result of what works best for the student?
Photo credit: slow death by cindy47452