Teacher has recently (2/3 into the school year) informed parents that Student is being held out of recess daily to complete written work. Once the student is alone in a quiet space, the worksheets are completed quickly & correctly. Parent is asking for help on how to get School to better recognize sensory needs.
Our experience has been strikingly similar. Our Student exhibits learning needs that do not match the “traditional” classroom environment even though academics are “not affected”. As I related this post to a friend who is studying to be a teacher, my friend asked me to look beyond my frustration and outrage into solutions.
The reasonableness of my friend’s request struck me as incredibly naïve because:
1: My observations as a parent are that the School is in no way shape or form even remotely interested in even pretending that there is a solution that they could facilitate. Our experience is that we, the parents, must be our own solution… what ever that may be: Warrior parenting, raising cain with the
people, getting prescriptions, outside OT, homeschooling, just telling our kid to bite the bullet & take that BS…. county SpEd
2: My experience as a classroom teacher is that each teacher is encouraged to be the dictator of their own room, find the logistics that match their content to their personality and get the appropriate records where they need to be on time. The reality is that new teachers are routinely told to do what works for them and make sure they can back up their grades with some documentation. Ultimately, if I tried something & it worked, good, but if it didn’t, I was at personal fault. I was not encouraged or given resources to look outside my classroom for means to accommodate a child. By all means I could get creative, but not unconventional.
3: In conversations with my child’s teachers, and my experience as an elementary Spanish teacher the lack of support from and to “specialized” teachers (whether special education or non-core subjects) is readily apparent. They are expected to manage a diverse body of learners with whatever means they can devise as long as they do not stir up notice or ask for extra time from other staff. The classroom teacher who sees my Student 5 days a week is NOT in collaboration with the art teacher who will be most likely to see the fine motor resistance. The Librarian who greets my Student off the bus is NOT communicating with the speech teacher who sees my Student in the afternoons. The school counselor who sees my student weekly for social skills is not involved when discipline is required for inappropriate contact at recess. I, as the Spanish teacher, am not asked to relate my activities to current classroom topics, and when I ask, am discouraged and side-lined.
4: The sum of my experiences shows me that the School, the Educational Establishment denies that anything is even “wrong” in the first place – except that my Student is disabled, of course. And I am clearly NOT the only parent feeling that way…
Then I thought: what would I have wanted to do if I were the teacher:
I would have wanted to find a way to enable that student to be successful in such a way that Student’s physical release/ movement and social standing were not involved. I would have wanted to ask my grade level team, and maybe even a specialist for suggestions (which many schools do enable). Most importantly I would have wanted to ask my administrator if there was a logistical way to give Student quiet space during what would normally seen as “my” class time. I would want my administrator to assume I was asking because it was in the best interest of the student, NOT because I couldn’t “handle it”. I would want the librarian or aide or whoever worked with Student to not groan and whine that I was mis-using their time or space. I would want the parents to not complain that I was singling Student out unfairly, and I would want the other students to respect that Student is still their equal even if he/she worked differently.
Then I thought: Is there reason in this unreasonable question? Why aren’t better solutions being tried/ executed? What needs to change?
Here, I get stuck. Maybe it is because I am a “big picture” thinker, or maybe it is that I am Asperger’s enough myself to think in iconic principles, to see everything in paradox/ extremes, but I think the answer is really quite simple:
We, humanity, need to let everyone be different.
That’s it. There’s no fancy lingo, no complicated plans, no legislation. And this is not a new or even far-flung idea. Yet it just does not happen. We are all over it, don’t get me wrong. We have legislated that every child will get what they need (even though we measure them all by the same yard stick), we talk about letting people “find” themselves (though we keep making recommendations and condemnations), we extol flamboyancy in celebrities (though we vilify & ridicule), and we seek self-improvement and spirituality collectively and individually. As a matter of fact our justice system is based on that idea (that we can help the criminal to grow out of their criminal behavior if just re-train them enough). We are all over this idea of everybody being different…
So WHY is it so hard to BE DIFFERENT?
WHY are there SO MANY of us (I would say on & off the spectrum) who struggle, who feel forced to conform? It MUST be part of the “Condition of Man” – almost EVERY piece of literature in the universe is about it, from the slutty romance heroines who are so misunderstood they mess up a perfect opportunity to get laid, to Don Quixote with characters dislocated from his historical context. Isn’t that the underlying theme for Twilight, and all the Disney Princesses, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and … just about everything you’ve read? EVERYBODY is just trying to be whoever they were destined/ designed to be…
Why is it so hard to believe we are all different?