I’ve been thinking a lot about special education students lately. I’m not a special education teacher, but of course, I teach special education students every day. I was reaching for a gallon of milk, and my eyes gravitated to the “Sell By” date. I zoned in on those words and I thought, “I hope that when I am teaching a special education student I remember to see more than just a label.” Some of our students have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), but shouldn’t we be individualizing education for ALL of our students? Shouldn’t all education be “special”?
In 17+ years, I have worked with over 100 different teachers. I have seen teachers come and go. Some of my mentors have retired; others teachers were peers who relocated, started families, or switched careers. I can honestly say that the teachers I have come to know and love are good people. We care. We really do.
But we are human. Sometimes I worry that we think about “labels” too much, and sometimes I fear we don’t think about students’ unique learning needs enough. Why is Henry Whitehorne so impulsive? I know he has ADHD, but I don’t think he’s trying hard enough. Why does he blurt things out? His binder is a mess! Well of course Henry W. is struggling to control his impulses and organize his materials! He has ADHD!
I really wish that we could all just lighten up a bit. Laugh a little more. Be human. Make a joke. Ditch the script. Spare the students the platitudes about getting them ready for the middle school or the high school or college or the real world. What if there were nothing to get ready for? What if it were just about teaching and ACCEPTING the students in front of us right now?
I have plenty of materials in my library for all kinds of learners and all kinds of interests, but I can’t put them in students’ hands if we are holding the audio books and graphic novels hostage because of our preconceived notions about reading. Please, can we let kids listen to audio books instead of reading? It’s not cheating. Let the kids buy or borrow the graphic novel. It’s not a comic book. It’s an art form; I promise you. Read El Deafo by Cece Bell right now. You will immediately become a believer in graphic novels.
By the way, I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m on a soap box up here. I mean, okay, I’m completely on a soap box, but I mean it in the best possible way. I know that as teachers and parents we are all just doing the very best we can. And I think that Henry W. is just doing his best, too.
Jennifer Kleinknecht has been the media specialist at H.B. Whitehorne Middle School since 2007. She writes about life as a school librarian on her blog, “The ‘Yes’ Librarian”.