Thankfully there are people who provide disparity for children who are marginalized. Some teachers, who are “naturals”, notice, relate, and provide connections even while plowing ahead with the curriculum. Sometimes these school-saviors wear a custodial uniform, arrives on nursing rounds, man the main office, coach a team after school, or they may even be a community volunteer. But whoever it is, those individuals provide an alternate experience for young people that have learned to not trust the system, who were believed when they said, “ I don’t care”. Usually these saving graces are folks who have suffered from being marginalized themselves, survived abuse at home, bullying on their childhood playgrounds, had their own learning challenges…in short personal experience allowed them to understand the wounded and crack through learned defenses.
I will never forget this one young man in my middle school class for students on the Autism Spectrum. There had been a meeting with the staff to prepare for the meeting with the parent (more on these pre-meetings in another post….) and the gist from the specialists and administrators was that the parent was in denial about her son’s abilities. The team agreed that this young man would never be able to use the bathroom independently, or communicate, let alone engage in any academics; in short he was unable to learn.
I was new to this team, but not to the attitude. When the student arrived in my class, I observed him for a while, and determined that he in fact had learned an important lesson: that hanging out in a semi-comatose state took a lot of the pressure off. I regularly drove the class to the wilds of Tilden Park, the beach, or the local Safeway. And through the rearview mirror, I saw him lift his head, focus and engage with his surroundings. At the seafood counter (based on intel from his mom, I knew he had a thing for crustaceans) he became downright euphoric. And when I bought him his own Crayfish to take back to class…I’d found the key to unlock his puzzle. We did Crayfish counting, Crayfish sorting, he poured over Crayfish books, etc. When he wanted his Crayfish, I insisted he ask for it, and pretty soon he, the Crayfish and I were having conversations. Once the ball was rolling, it turned out that if the door to the bathroom was kept open so he could see the toilet, he would wander in, and use it. Sure, he still had a profound disability, but he had been learning along. I just figured out how to align his learning with school-based expectations and activities.
How do you connect with “hard” students?