Loony Hiker says on her amazing post, Seeing the Student Within,
“Some of my students may not have a reading disability but they have major difficulties with math and since they can read okay, teachers assume that their math difficulties are due to laziness. “
I see this so many times. A child has a learning disability and they are automatically labeled as lazy. Sure, they have to make extra effort and have to have enough hope that their efforts will bear fruit as to be willing to make extra effort, but many kids with learning disabilities aren't lazy. They feel frustrated and misunderstood.
But then, Pat goes on to tell a story of a boy who was gifted… up until the end of his 8th grade year when he had a traumatic brain injury. The school refused to move him down to another class because of his last test scores, which showed that he was gifted.
“He was already realizing that he wasn’t the same person and had lost many of the social skills that most teens knew by this time. More and more of his friends were drifting away and he was having lots of difficulties in classes. Finally his class schedule was changed and he was placed in much lower level classes.
Of course, this was another blow to his self esteem because he was no longer with his friends that he had grown up with in the gifted classes…Teachers who looked through his records, even though they knew he had been in an accident, kept expecting him to perform much higher than he could and felt he was lazy.
Since he didn’t look any different, they forgot that he had a brain injury and came down pretty hard on him. They had known him before the accident and remembered that he was smart, so they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t trying hard enough. They thought that if he just put effort into it, the brain trauma would just disappear. I worked with him for many hours after school and on weekends to get him caught up. I was so relieved when he finally graduated in spite of what some teachers made him go through. My heart ached for his parents who had to help him fight these battles that they never had to fight before.”
Pat's entire post is worth a read. But I want to point this out, Life is a Battlefield if you have a child with an LD.
When you have children who have learning disabilities it is a constant battle. The parent and the child are constantly being judged, condemned, blamed, and talked about.
Having two of three with a learning disability, I've heard it all from well meaning people “you're too hard on him,” “you're too easy on him” “if you'd just do this differently,” “if you'd just do that…” “If you just don't test him, he won't have an LD” “How's he going to function in the real world with this accommodation?” “You're not doing him any favors by helping him learn in this way.”
I want to say — WHAT? Are you a teacher or a person taking up space?
I've finally settled that the things that help the most are:
- Having my children on a schedule. Go to sleep at the same time, get up at the same time. Eat a good breakfast. Eat a good dinner as a family around the table at least five nights a week.
- Require 30 minutes minimum of study time a night from all of my children, whether they “think” they have homework or not. LD kids are often hesitant to bring work home because #1 they are so exhausted and #2 they are afraid that they'll forget to take it back to school. But, we have to teach them the habit of taking things back and forth, so by requiring it, after a good eight weeks of this new habit, my oldest is back on headmasters list and youngest have grades that are going up.
- Know my child. Nothing can replace the heart, soul, and prayers of a loving parent. I see the greatness in my children. My job is to help them live out their hopes and dreams and help them make wise choices. I respect them as people equal in deserving of respect as I, just a bit younger.
- Advocate for my child. It is my job to know their accommodations and to advocate for those to happen in the classroom. I don't assume teachers are “told” about the issues, and I also don't expect the teacher to remember from year to year. As a teacher myself, I appreciate the parents who help me pull their child's needs to the front of my mind. I always start out by speaking out and then butting out. Set up the communication flow and then follow up on my part. Never make EXCUSES for my child not doing their best and I never speak ill of a teacher in front of my child. Period.
- Daily concern for my child's success. So many parents only care when report cards come out. I think every school should have a student information system with parent access. In this case, the parent should be looking at their child's grades daily. Yes, daily. I've set powerschool to email me all of my children's grades daily.
- Focus on TODAY. Kids who make low grades are frustrated when they feel that they are fighting an uphill battle. When they have made a bad grade, we come back to this… do your best TODAY. I just care about today. Tomorrow is gone, do your best TODAY. That is it!! It has made all the difference with my children.
- Get ahead every chance we can. In the summers, my kids go to the learning lab for enrichment. We do things to help them learn. We read books together. I've read aloud two Harry Potter books, the Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time when the kids were in 4th and 5th grade to help them have a love for reading. There is a balance, but I want them to know that being excellence is part of WHAT WE DO.
- Love unconditionally. My love does not vary with grades or behavior. It is a constant. I would never withhold love or give more love because of behavior. We do use rewards and punishment, but my love doesn't change. Kids eventually would figure out if they were being manipulated.
- Work hard. This is hard work. It doesn't stop. It is exhausting but I cannot ever stop.
- Teach independence and self advocacy – I must teach them to advocate for themselves and become independent. Money management, life management, knowing how to wash their clothes, and make their beds — these are the things that come from self respect. The rooms aren't perfect, but we work on a little more independence each year.
Being the kind of teacher who is remembered (in a good way)
As I look back over the relatively brief school careers of my children, I remember clearly the two extremes of teachers:
1) the incredible teachers who loved my children and held them to a high standard but partnered with me and treated me and the children with empathy… they were my partners and LOVED my children and saw the big picture of where my child was heading and what had to be corrected, and
2) the truly horrible teachers who didn't care, played the blame game, and stripped away hope from my struggling children… these teachers didn't get it and bruised my children and me.
Note, that I WANT teachers to push my children. I WANT them to hold them accountable and make sure the behaviors that are a problem are corrected. But I also WANT them to care. My child isn't a number to me and I don't want any of them to be a faceless student in another year of students.
The teachers who best understand this usually (not always) are those who had some sort of struggle themselves: they have a child with LD, they were picked on, they had an LD, or they've been through a struggle. The toughest teachers to understand LD were popular, high achievers, who have all “normal” people in their family.
To me, it comes down to a good teacher, with a commitment to excellence, who loves children. One who puts principle above the principal if it comes down to that.
I just want teachers to understand.
And that is what the kids want too. Someone to understand them.
Today, a new day is dawning when we can actually differentiate instruction. It is a brand new day and I see amazing results with my own children. (Like my first grader with spelling city.) Using technology to accommodate is a MUST do not a nice to do.
If you are an educator, take a second to consider that child you're struggling with and imagine that you were them. How would you see you?
If you're a parent of a child with an LD, are you being an advocate?
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