Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teaching vs. Stroke Recovery

I recently read the book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor which I felt had some important messages for teachers. There is a direct relationship between how she was treated and how she felt to the way teachers teach. I think teachers would really benefit from reading this book and hopefully change the way they think, teach, and react to students. I have quoted some of the passages and shared my reflections about them.

“I remind you that although I was mentally disabled, I was not unconscious.” P. 71

“Dr. David Greer was a kind and gentle young man. He was genuinely sympathetic to my situation and took the time to pause during his busy routine to lean down near my face and speak softly to me. He touched my arm to reassure me that I would be okay. Although I could not understand his words, it was clear to me that Dr. Greer was watching over me. He understood that I was not stupid but that I was impaired. He treated me with respect.” P. 75

“I chose to show up for those professionals who brought me energy by connecting with me, touching me gently and appropriately, making direct eye contact with me, and speaking calmly. I responded positively to positive treatment. The professionals who did not connect with me sapped my energy, so I protected myself by ignoring their requests.” P. 82

Even though she had trouble understanding and processing, she could understand tone of voice and body language. As a teacher, I need to keep this in mind when I’m teaching students. They may have difficulty understanding the concept but they can still tell whether I care about them and respect them by my tone of voice and body language. If a student respects me and feels I really care, they tend to work harder for me. Many times I have heard my students tell me that they didn’t like a certain teacher because the teacher didn’t care about them. I have seen these students just shut down in these classes. How many times have I heard other teachers say hurtful things about students and then comment that the student wouldn’t understand anyway so it didn’t matter? Or sometimes I have heard a teacher talk condescendingly to a student and it was so obvious that there was no respect for the student at all. I feel my special education students expend a lot of energy trying to concentrate and focus on learning but sometimes it is just so hard for them. When they become distracted or overwhelmed, it is time for me to step back and just let the student get to a point where they feel safe and secure again. As long as they are distracted or overwhelmed, I will not be able to teach them anything because they have shut down. I need to be more in tune to what the student is saying by looking at facial expressions and body language even if they don’t verbalize their feelings.

“I needed the people around me to believe in the plasticity of my brain and its ability to grow, learn, and recover.” P. 112

My students needed to believe that teaching them was not a waste of time. I have had many students ask me why I wasted my time and I had to tell them over and over that it was not a waste of time. I don’t think teaching students or helping them learn (even if it is something small) is ever a waste of time and try to tell them that I learn something new every day. As people, we are lifelong learners whether we want to be or not. If I can help make this learning easier or help them learn something they want to know, it will never be a waste of time.

“I needed people to celebrate the triumphs I made everyday because my successes, no matter how small, inspired me.” P. 118

My students needed constant encouragement and acknowledgement of their small successes. When a baby is learning to walk, every little step is celebrated and encouraged. I need to remember this when my students make these baby steps in learning. Usually teenagers won’t tell you that they want and need this encouragement but I feel it is basic human nature to want and need this. When I crochet something or make a scrapbook page, I want my husband to tell me that it looks great or he can tell how hard I work. It doesn’t matter if I’m young or old, people like to have others celebrate their triumphs.

I hope by making these adjustments in my teaching, I will help students be more successful.


hloy said...

Thank you for sharing, great post. I now have another book to add to my TBR pile. I think you've hit the nail on the head with why some students, not just special education students, shut down in many classes. They get the vibe that the teacher doesn't care about them, whether real or imagined. As educators we need to be more aware that the subtle things we do (consciously or unconsciously) really do make a difference, for the better or worse.

BTW, if you haven't already found it, there is a TEDtalk with Jill Bolte Taylor that was outstanding.

loonyhiker said...

hloy: I've seen the TED talk and I've listened to the interview done by Oprah on a podcast. I loved both of them and found them so inspirations.

hloy said...

Thank for letting me know about the Oprah podcast, I'll go look for it.


loonyhiker said...

Here is the link to the podcasts: