By Lynne D. Feldman, Esq.
I taught in public school for over two decades. During that time, we teachers became more engrossed in dealing with special education students: those who had IEPs and 504 accommodations. Many of our students struggled with learning or attention issues like autism, dyscalculia, or ADHD, yet only 17 percent of teachers nationwide felt prepared to support them, a new report finds.
This report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood—two national leaders in supporting children with learning disabilities—have targeted many of the misconceptions that teachers have about learning disabilities, including autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, and other processing disorders. Millions of children—as many as one in five, according to the report—struggle with ordinary, everyday tasks. These students have the potential to succeed, even spectacularly so, yet are persistently at higher risk of underperforming academically or dropping out of school.
I can remember almost every one of my students who fit into this category. They were highly articulate but could not write a coherent sentence; their attention was fixated out of my windows, and they never had complete notes, even though I wrote them on the board; they could not process similes or metaphors; or they had modified tests but still failed every one.
Half of the teachers interviewed for the report did not believe that these struggling learners could ever succeed. What a terrible finding!
Remember Temple Grandin, a brilliant engineer with autism as well as incredible spatial intelligence? When she worked with cows, she could not recall steps she was to take, no matter how many times she was reminded. Yet succeed, she did. Is she different from other struggling students? No.
Then how do we approach these students? By changing our mindsets. We teachers must abandon the old belief that these students can never succeed, and substitute our beliefs as follows:
· Teachers must acquire a strong sense of self-efficacy, or the belief that they are capable of improving learning outcomes for their students. These teachers design high-quality, engaging lessons, spend more time with struggling students, and are able to give supportive—not critical—feedback.
· Teachers need to acquire a positive orientation toward inclusion and personal responsibility for all students. They must believe that all students can succeed. They need to create a warm classroom environment where students feel welcome.
· Teachers need to acquire a growth mindset. Students should be given the tools to be able to solve problems independently. They should also be encouraged to see the value of persistence, self-regulation, and effort in driving success.
In conclusion, make sure that your child’s teachers understand and identify their strengths. If they can’t identify any strengths when you have discussions with them, come prepared with your own list. Ask the teacher how they intend to nurture those strengths, not just address the student’s weaknesses.