Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Building Self Concept

Here is another question from my special ed forum:

“My partner teacher and I teach high school students with disabilities in a cross-categorical program called Occupational Course of Study (OCS), in which these students learn job skills along with academics in pursuit of a standard high school diploma. This school year we have a number of students who are latino/latina that have anxiety and feel extra social pressures around being identified as in a special education program, and do everything they can to "hide" that fact from the rest of the student body.

I thought it would be helpful for these students to get perspectives from other current/former students in a similar demographic, and have been searching YouTube, social media, and other places online. I found a site called, for example, which has resources but they appear largely geared towards representing people with disabilities other than specific learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities.

I'm hoping one of my illustrious colleagues on here has some hidden gems they'd be willing to share, or something or someone they could point me towards. Please let me know.”

Here is my answer:

I taught an Occupational Diploma High School class in SC for years and I know my students acted the same way! I don’t have any specific resources for you other than to share things that I did to help them.

I explained to the students that a disability is not something they can control, just like diabetes or thyroid problems. If they act like they are ashamed of it, then people will treat them that way. A lot of people act this way because they don’t understand specific disabilities and this is an opportunity to educate others. I explain that a disability is just like being on a highway with other cars. But a person with a disability gets to the point where their part of the highway is washed out and they have to take a longer side route. It doesn’t mean their car doesn’t work, it just means the route is longer and with more obstacles on the side roads than the highway.

I had a class motto for 30 years - “I am a Born Winner!” that they had to write on every paper they turned in for a grade. I also ask them when they come into the room to say it out loud. I have them say it before every test they take. Sometimes they have to say it as a group before they leave the room. They have learned to believe that they are losers for so long that I try to break the cycle of the “stinkin’ thinkin’” I met a student from 20 years ago that pulled out a slip of paper from her wallet with that motto on it. She said that it helped get her through tough times.

I got permission from the administration to do some landscaping around the school and wrote a grant for flowers and bushes and tools. Students researched prices and the types of plants we wanted to get. We had so much fun doing this! General ed students saw us doing this and even asked my students how they could get in my class so they could have fun!

Eventually, some of my students even felt comfortable enough that they were willing to go into other classrooms and explain about their disability and how it makes them feel.

I don’t know if any of this helps but it took time to overcome the learned negative thinking that they believed and replace it with positive thinking.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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