“Every child in your class is someone’s whole world.” -Unknown
My brother is diagnosed PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) with a processing disorder. That means that he is on the spectrum, but they aren’t quite sure what he has.
This past weekend, we toured a fully accredited college that is specifically designed for students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. (If you haven’t heard of Beacon College, check it out! It is amazing!) It is there that we realized that he is not ready. There are too many reasons to list to describe why Michael is not ready. I have been in a funk since last weekend because my mind has been filled with the doubts and the uncertainties of his future. However, that is not my focus today. I want to look past that. Far too often we focus on the negative. Let’s change our perspective, and think of what students succeed at, what students find joy in.
Visualize your students. Write down the names of your “low”, “struggling”, “behavior” students. Think about how many of them are formally diagnosed (with anything). Picture the ones that you can sense have “just a little something else going on”.
These are the students we need to focus on.
Each student needs your love and understanding.
That student is someone’s baby.
I know the days can be SO challenging. I know behaviors are sometimes completely unpredictable. I understand how frustrating it can be to want to finish a lesson with so many other activities or discussions happening around the room. I have been there when people say, “Really!?! How do you teach while that is happening?”
So, I started watching the expert teachers around me. They are not necessarily veteran teachers and they are not necessarily trained to work with students with special needs. They just have a gift. This year I am blessed to co-teach with two wonderful ladies in two separate classrooms. Each one has a student who was a “problem student” in the past. I saw something different in the kids. There’s just a certain spark about them compared to last year. I started realizing that there was a type of trust, love, and friendship that developed between the child and the teacher. The following two things hit home the most:
Learning about the child is so important to his/her success. We have a student who is autistic in one of my classes. Let’s call him B. B is infatuated with dinosaurs. He absolutely loves everything about dinosaurs. I noticed that his main classroom teacher has embraced this from the beginning. She has taught me to relax throughout the day and just be whatever B needs us to be. We talk dinosaurs, we act out dinosaurs, we get him books about dinosaurs, we listen to “Dino Stomp” on GoNoodle. B thrives with his teacher. He is so sweet and innocent (and can tell you 100000 facts about a Velociraptor!).
Investing in their interests helps students to understand that you truly care about them. B begs to go down the hall to another classroom so that he can look up dinosaurs on the computer and hang out with that teacher. This teacher knew B loved dinos, so she took the time to show him a dinosaur research website. A second grade teacher from downstairs even decorated our door and room today with dinosaur footprints because she knows B. He often waves in her window when we pass by, because he knows she always loves his dinosaur sounds and hand movements. This teacher made T-Rex footprints “appear” in our classroom this morning. There was even a note on B’s desk from the T-Rex. I cannot tell you how excited he was. He literally talked about it all day!
These days, we are so hyper focused on standardized tests and achievement scores. Other times, we teachers read the child’s “label” before learning about the true child. However, kids like my brother or B are not defined by those numerical scores or the series of letters in a label. They may not be able to read a passage and comprehend the text perfectly. They may not be able to process quickly enough to solve all of the math questions during a timed test. They may not be a top performing student in your classroom. But they are someone’s WHOLE WORLD.
Each and every single child in your classroom is someone’s whole entire world.
After facing some difficult times with my brother, I look at my students in a new light. I am doing everything in my power to understand where they are coming from and what brings them joy. As teachers, we have to find that joy in children. That joy deep inside that their mothers and fathers see. That joy gives such insight beyond the label. It gives you insight on the child.