Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The teacher is always right

The Teacher is always right.

Whether a teacher thinks a child is going to do very well or the teacher thinks the child is going to struggle, she is right.  Teachers are hugely powerful.  They send clear messages to the other students about how to treat each child.  
One of the first things any child looks for is to see if he or she belongs in this environment.   Are there kids who look like me in my books?    Are there kids who have less mainstream names than the average kid?  Are there people in authority who look like me, the teachers, the aides, the administrators?   Do any of them have names that sound like mine?
Too often for far too many of our children the answer is no.   It is currently considered a good idea to fully include children with learning challenges in the mainstream classroom.   If I have a disability, how does my teacher feel about having me in her class.   Does she see me as just one more burden thrust on her by an administration that has no idea of everything with which I need to deal.  Does he see me as potentially dragging down the class test scores and making him look like a bad teacher?  If I am an English language learner, does my teacher realize that I might be very smart and that it is just my lack of facility with English that makes it hard for me to answer questions?
Maybe my teacher is very well-intentioned.   Perhaps she believes that with a lot of effort on her part she will “save” me from my community.   Maybe I don’t want to be saved.  Maybe I want to be respected for the good things about my community and even about my disability. 
The teacher sets forth the social order in the classroom.   Whether it is a sigh when I don’t process language as quickly as she thinks I should or a comment such as “we need to move on here”, he is sending a message that my presence is a burden.   When another student asks something about my name, my attire or my learning disability and the teacher responds as if I weren’t present rather than suggesting that the student just ask me- a message about my belonging is sent forth.  None of our kids needs to be saved.   Everyone of them knows something they could teach the teacher.   Every child comes from a place of value.   It is up to us the educators to feel the value of difference and to teach that value to all of the children in the classroom. 

Teachers teach many subjects, math, English, history-but the most important thing they can teach and convey to their students is why each and every student is of value and can bring something of value to the other children.   Because we all know the teacher is always right- it is just not always clear what the teacher is teaching is also right.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A lesson in history

A lesson in history

This June is my 55th year as a licensed special educator.   I have been fortunate enough to have lived through almost the entire metamorphous of the profession.  I remember when Rosewood State Hospital was the Institution for the Feeble Minded set “way out” in the country.   Now its buildings are being demolished and the land will become part of Stevenson University.   It has not housed “patients” in many years.  The people who lived there were never sick, they were disabled and living there made them more so.
I remember as an elementary school student in Baltimore City Public Schools having a class in my school called the opportunity class.  We were not allowed to look into that room and the students stayed there until they were 16.  We never saw them out of the room, but since we were not allowed to look in, we tried to do so at every opportunity.
I remember starting my special ed teaching career in a Baltimore County high school.  My classroom was in a trailer with doors that did not fully close and windows that did not open.   I was given a set of Reader’s Digest magazines and a stack of 8” by 15” poster board for my total supply of instructional materials.  The wind opened and closed the door in winter and we knew the periods were changing when we saw the other students on the way to the vocational shop building.  In our trailer, no bells rang.
In the 60’s when I supervised secondary special ed classes in Baltimore County, one of our secondary high school rooms met in the boys' locker room of the visiting team.  When there was a home game the teacher had to vacate the locker room for the incoming sport's team.
In the 70’s, I taught at the University of Maryland, College Park.  We had student teachers in the Prince George’s County Public Schools.   The special ed classes ate lunch in an empty cafeteria AFTER the plain kids had vacated the room.  They were also not allowed on the playground at the same time the plain students were at recess.
In 1975, President Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), the precursor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that we know today.  The act required that all children with disabilities receive an appropriate education at public expense.   At the time of signing, President Ford said he doubted the aims of the law could ever be achieved.  There had been multiple court cases disputing the rights of school systems to exclude some of their children just because they had disabilities.  The new law required schools to educate all kids and to provide related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling and speech.   It was a game changer.
Today as I begin my 56th year as a special educator, I remember the history and the long winding path we have walked to get here.   Sadly we are not done.   No one disputes the rights of the kids with disabilities to be in the school.   What is under continuing dispute is what equals an appropriate education for those kids once they are in the school building.   Come to think of it, we seem to have trouble delivering an appropriate education for plain kids as well.   Maybe we have finally arrived at full equality.