There is no such thing as students with special needs or learning disorders. It is the society we live in that has created a special place for those who haven’t learned how to conform their uniqueness. We all were once special needs learners!
Before I share my story with you, let me share one really thoughtful and bold statement I heard recently from one psychologist. She said that it is the conformity, sterility and rigidity of society that doesn’t allow us to have time and patience to deal with special talents and the courage to see that this just reflects who we are as adults.
Teachers or parents, you can either address a special need as a disorder and use it as an excuse for your decisions or actions, or you can embrace it as an opportunity to look inside the pure nature of unspoiled learning that does not follow the norms yet!
As a teacher, a good one, you choose responsibility and the place where the sun shines on others. It is not about rewards, comfort or recognition. It is about being a guide — and the guide is never the main hero in a story.
Please never, never ever blame children for not making your life easier.
My story is about a little Italian boy I met during a summer school who stole my heart in the most sincere way possible. He came into my elementary class and all we shared at the very beginning were a very few, basic phrases in English. Very soon I found out about his dyslexia. I knew I wouldn’t be spending more than a couple of weeks with him, but I couldn’t give up on him.
The natural instinct to learn is very alive in kids and if they are not made to feel they are part of the class, they can act in ways we perceive as disruptive.
I am not trained to teach such kids so I had to rely on some basic elements of intuitive learning:
Be mindful (here and now)
I had to observe him, the things he did, the way he did them, and what he didn’t do, while paying attention to his smiles and the look in his eyes. I could go on with all the details but the thing is we eventually found out the way to teach each other, connect the whole class and break any form, order or disorder.
I noticed he was really talkative and for that reason he naturally used his mother tongue. He paid attention when I used pictures and when I was talking in small chunks of the target language. His eyes got that famous spark when I showed interest in his language.
Don’t put your comfort above the desire to learn!
As a result, we created our own little game. My homework was to remember the words in Italian he taught me and his work was to remember the same words in English. Every time we met we tested each other. I said an Italian word and he responded with the English translation. He said an English word and I had to remember the Italian equivalent. The whole class worked that way and we could build on that.
It may not be a very sophisticated technique or effective for everyone, but the point is that as a teacher you need to step back and bring out the best in your students by letting them work the way they prefer to work. I just spent some time to learn who he really is, not only who he appeared to be, and none of us gave up on each other.