For the second year in a row I am working with non-categorical special education students. At least that’s the label we use in my district. It means I am working with students who, by third grade, have made minimal academic progress and we need to try something new. So these students spend part of their day (breakfast, morning meeting, science, social studies, lunch, recess, specials) with our class and the other part of their day (math, reading, writing) in a special education classroom with only a few students.
Before students arrived last week I had looked very briefly at my students IEPs (individual education plans) but by the time they were in our classroom and we were getting started I had forgotten which exact students had IEPs and how many hours of services they each received. I was fine with that as I like to get to know my kiddos without a lot of preconceived ideas impacting my impressions of them.
Near the end of our second day we were working to rethink schedules (long, somewhat traumatic story that I’ll keep to myself) so the phenomenal special education teacher with whom I am lucky enough to work was talking to me about our shared kiddos. As she named students and talked about when she would pull them out I found myself very surprised by a couple of the names. My impressions of these students didn’t fit what she was telling me. But I didn’t know them well only two days in. I realize that.
What concerns me is how differently I looked at these couple of students over the next two days. Suddenly I was noticing the things that challenged them instead of the things they were doing well. I was aware of their struggles more than their successes. All because I had attached the label to the child.
This came to mind this weekend as I read this piece from a former colleague and brilliant friend. She’s working as an inclusion coach this year and is reflecting on what that means to her. And her words are why I am worried about my reaction to knowing these children’s labels.
I saw what the teacher saw. Although I suspect the little four year old boy did too. In that environment he became what the teacher expected.
This is a challenge always, no matter the child’s labels. Holding high expectations without being unreasonable is critical for every student. It feels a bit like walking a tight rope. When a label makes the tight rope walk even more challenging I need to be aware, cautious, and thoughtful, even more than normal.