Being a special education teacher of over 10 years, I find myself continually evolving. Surprisingly, as of late, the evolution has not involved anything to do with me as a teacher, but in understanding the journey of my students. I’ve often asked myself how I can teach them to greater mastery or why are they just not understanding the material? The answer is that they are not getting it because we (teachers and parents) are not getting them. How is this possible? We are the adults. We are the masters of our craft. We have given birth to these beautiful creatures. How can we not understand them?
It boils down to some very simple realities. For many of us, special education and learning disabilities are somewhat of a mystery. We very often have great feelings of frustration and helplessness when dealing with the LD child. We don’t fully understand what it is or how these particular brains are functioning. Unbeknownst to us, these feelings of frustration and helplessness translate to our children/students as disappointment. This is something they are very used to. Most of their academic careers have consisted of working really hard and getting very minimal results…they disappoint themselves. Their teachers tell them to try harder next time…they have disappointed their teacher. They have to face their parents with another bad grade…they have disappointed their parents. This misunderstanding is in no way malicious, but it is there. If we as adults are frustrated, just imagine how the child must feel.
There are some very simple solutions to this problem. We have to take the shame out of our game and talk to our children about what is going on. We must help them understand what a learning disability is and, more importantly, what it is not.
In the past five parent meetings I have conducted, I actually asked the parents and students if they knew what a learning disability was. To my complete surprise, none of them did. The most common answer was slow learner or just not as smart as the other kids. The conversation was shrouded in shame, the eye contact had disappeared and the body language was very uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe it.
It brought me great joy to explain to them, for the first time, that a learning disability is a processing problem that impairs a person’s ability to read, write, spell or do mathematics. The big kicker here is that in order to qualify for a learning disability, the person must have a normal or above average IQ. Yes, it’s true! The brain with a learning disability simply sees things differently.
Well, the sad and shameful shroud in the room lifted, eye contact resumed and there were ear to ear smiles in each meeting. This tiny piece of vital information changed everything. The students carried themselves with much more confidence, the parents were much more willing to have positive communication with the school and the students’ behavior and grades actually improved.
As parents and teachers it is natural to feel frustrated when we see our children failing, but we must remember that it is not about us. It is about the beautiful creatures that we are striving to educate. There is no shame in having a learning disability and it is up to us to be the pioneers of taking the shame out of our game.
Laura Reiff is a special education teacher from Chicago, IL. She has been a special education teacher for over 10 years. Her expertise in this field has inspired her to write children’s books with a passionate mission to lift the negative stigma of Special Education by planting the seeds of understanding and compassion through self-esteem. Her first book is in development. It is an inspirational story about a young girl coping with dyslexia. In this, the first book of the series, Naomi Noodles faces the confusion of being told she is dyslexic, and the trials and tribulations of realizing how dyslexia can affect one’s life outside of just the learning environment. With a little help from a very special friend, Naomi begins to learn how to triumph over issues of bullying and family problems associated with her learning disability. Along the way she discovers just how wonderful, amazing and splendiferous she truly is.
Laura Reiff is also the creator of www.about-special-education.