By Kodey Toney
I saw a sign on Facebook recently that said, “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” This is profound for all children, not just those with disabilities. This is the mentality that I think the teachers are going to have to adopt in order to work in the mainstream classroom.
The average child in the classroom has evolved in recent years. This is obvious, but when you look at a report for the U.S. Department of Education; “47 percent of students who have disabilities spend 80 percent or more of their day in general education classroom settings.” This is an increase from 14 percent less than a decade ago. Many things can cause this number to change, but the fact remains that there are a huge amount of students who need some sort of help in the classroom.
We all know that people have different ways of learning. I teach a Freshman Orientation class at the college and one of the things I talk about is the different learning styles. People, especially children, take in information in different ways. If a teacher has gone through a teaching program in college they will know that they need to stimulate the different styles with the way they teach. Some are auditory, some are visual, some are kinesthetic and so on. Because of this the instructors change, or modify, the way they teach in the class to help everyone.
Modifying, according to the dictionary, is a small alteration, adjustment, or limitation. Now, I understand that modifications for a child with a disability may be more than just a “small” adjustment. These are also part of the Individualized Education Program for a student. It will include many things that need to be changed for the child. However, it is also necessary to give them an education they deserve.
We have been very fortunate to have great teachers for Konner. They have been willing to go above and beyond to provide him with what he needs to learn. They all have done what they think is best for him, and that’s really all you can ask from a teacher.
However, there are some teachers who do not want to change their routine for one child. I have heard of teachers who refuse to change the way they run their classroom. Granted, some of these have been teaching for a while and they have an old-school mentality (pun intended). The problem is that they will not modify unless they have an IEP in place. This of course is why IEPs were put into place. However, you don’t have to have an IEP to modify. I’ve seen some great teachers who modify their classroom because a child needed something different to help them learn, and didn’t wait for a piece of paper to force them to make changes. On the other hand I’ve seen teachers who don’t change even though they have been given the IEP.
This makes me question some teacher’s intent. I know this is a little unfair sometimes, but I just want to ask, “Why did you get into teaching?” I know it wasn’t for the pay. My wife is a teacher, we don’t have money. I know it wasn’t for the social interaction, the social status, or the benefits (despite the summers off this is not why most teachers actually get into the profession). So why then?
Most teachers want to help others. This is their ultimate goal. They want to make the world a better place by helping educate the masses. The problem is that the masses are not all the same. You can’t use a cookie-cutter approach to teaching.
You will have children who really do well in some areas, but others they struggle. This isn’t new though. I like to think that I’m a pretty intelligent person (at least that’s what I like to think). I think I’m a pretty well rounded student. I was pretty good in English, history, science, and most other subjects. When it came to math I stunk. I passed, but I struggled. I saw the problems as some sort of cuneiform and the teacher sounded like the teachers from the Peanuts cartoon. So I had to ask for help from the instructor and other students. My teacher, when asked, was more than willing to help because she knew that I needed it. This is the way it should be with any child, regardless of being labeled with a disability. Should that change the way we look at our children/students?
The other issue with this is that sometimes the child either can’t, or won’t, ask for help. This is where the teacher needs to take it upon themselves to work with the child just because that is their job.
Now, I want to take the time to say thank you to Konner’s teacher Mrs. Williams, and his aide Mrs. Mindy. They have both done exactly what I have been talking about here. They have worked to give Konner many modifications in the classroom that have helped him stay calm and give him the Least Restrictive Environment, which is not only what you should do, but it’s the law. This was not because it’s the law, or even because it was in an IEP, in fact they have done things that were not in the IEP. They did it because they saw a need. I’m pretty sure they would do if for any child.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org