Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are My Students Fender Benders?

This past week I had a little car accident that resulted in a smashed in front fender (almost like the one in the photo only my dents were much lower). This was our “new” car that has been our pride and joy for the past year. The accident was all my fault because I thought my little car could go up over an embankment of rocks and tree limbs but obviously I was wrong. After my husband took the car out for a drive he determined that there was no mechanical damage to the car and there was just cosmetic damage. Of course I have been feeling terrible about the whole thing and feel bad every time I get in the car. My car will never be perfect again and will always have the flaw of being wrecked forever. It will never have the value it did when it was considered “perfect.” I hope my feeling of guilt will go away because I feel pretty miserable every time I think about it.

This made me think of my special education students. I wondered if this is how their parents felt when they first noticed their child having difficulties in school. Of course they tried a lot of different things to motivate their child but if the child has a disability, it won’t magically disappear no matter what they do. Do the parents feel guilty every time they notice their child struggling or when the report card comes? Do parents wonder what they have done wrong to cause this? Do these parents feel that their child will never have full value anymore because the child has a “flaw?” How much of the guilt trip is encouraged by teachers? I have heard many teachers blame parents for not doing enough or supporting schools enough. Maybe some of them do but that won’t change their child’s disability.

This also made me think of things that I could do to help be more positive with students and parents. Just like my car, thinking positive thoughts will never get rid of the “dents” but maybe I need to move on and let the negative thoughts go. This won’t happen overnight and I will probably need to work on it. I need to make sure that I take care of the car better from now on and not put it in situations where I might make matters worse. This works the same way with my students. I need to be sensitive to their needs and make sure that I do not make their lives worse by doing something unconsciously or inadvertently. By making positive phone calls home to parents, I would be focusing on the students’ strengths and not weaknesses. Talking to the individual student about their disability may help them understand why they are having difficulties. I have had many students tell me that no one has ever talked to them about their disability so they thought it was something to be ashamed of. Working with parents to find solutions to problems enable parents to feel more in control when working with their child at home. Teaching my class to accept each other and their individual differences will go a long way to a student’s success in life.

Maybe we can all learn to accept the little “dents” in life.

Photo credit: why I’ve been especially sad since 6:45 yesterday evening by thomwatson


David Colon said...

Your article hits a nerve with me. During my 14 years of teaching, I've taught lots of kids who fall into the supposedly "dented" category. They really do internalize their learning differences and so do parents. I've often wondered, as you do, to what extent we as teachers inadvertently promote this attitude.

I've tried to be much more aware of appreciating all students' gifts and talents and trying to work through these strengths rather than with a deficit model. As such, I've become much more constructionist in my pedagogy than I was 14 years ago. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. And your comments about the importance of parent contact are absolutely true. Great philosophy you have here.

loonyhiker said...

feijoo: Sometimes I look back at some of the stupid mistakes I made as a new teacher and wish that I could undo it. That is one of the reasons I write this blog because I hope that I can help some new teacher out there not make the same mistakes that I did.

Ms Characterized said...

Shoot, I won't make your mistakes -- I'll make my own, several times a day, no doubt! >grin<

Interesting post. Most of my students are high-achievers, and I still see this awareness of differences.