Granny Smith Apples

Granny Smith Apples

Sunday, 3 February 2013

First Encounters

There are definitely moments I am not proud of when I reflect upon my life.  Yet even in those experiences I have been shaped to become who I am today.  One of these moments happened the first time I encountered disability.

During my summer days as a teenager one of my tasks was to watch my sister.  This included taking care of her general well being (meals and safety) and helping her with her summer review work.  I loathed helping my sister with her summer review work.  I saw my sister as slow and someone who could never do anything just right.  After giving my sister her summer review work this was the usual scenario in our house.  I would go back to the couch to continue my TV watching while my sister worked on her assigned math pages.  I would look up every now and then to see how she was doing.  Since she wasn’t complaining and her pencil was moving I wouldn’t see any reason to get up to see how she was doing.  I figured if she needed help she would ask for it.  When my sister was finished, I would take the workbook and begin marking it with my red pen.  The more I marked, the higher I would feel my blood pressure go.  Despite having worked on multiplication repeatedly, she would be still getting every single question wrong.  My “X”s would be written with more force and become larger on the page with each question.  Finally about half way through, I would start ranting and belittling my sister.  My sister would stare and eventually I would just walk away.

Here’s the thing.  Even as a teenager, I knew my sister had real difficulties learning.  The classroom was a difficult place for her academically and socially.  Yet my actions showed no compassion nor real understanding of her situation.  Instead, I taught the way I had been taught insisting if I had been able to learn that way then she should also be able to succeed.  I flippantly disregarded her learning disability despite the reality of it.  I didn’t consider that for her to learn effectively I just might need to change how I was teaching.

Surprisingly, even after this experience I entered the field of education.  Throughout my teaching career, my experience with my sister’s learning disability constantly reminds me to reflect upon how I am teaching my students with special needs.  Do I truly see their needs as real or am I trying to impose the norm upon them?  Am I willing to change myself in order to see their success?  Am I seeing my student with special needs as a person with potential or have I already pigeon-holed their abilities?  I didn’t react well to my first encounter with disability but I’d like to think I became a better teacher because of it.

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