In the closing of the most impressive SPED course of my college career, my professor emphasized the prefacing any of our future classes with the idea of fairness for each student. We are finally in an age where teachers across the nation must be taking every measure to ensure the education of every student. While this may be difficult for some readers to understand, let me tell you from my limited experience: there are kids in our schools not getting a fair shot! I will argue this with anyone who says otherwise. But, there is hope! Because there are good teachers and there are even better teacher teachers, so let’s get into what I learned today.
An exercise/simulation today in the last class meeting really made me feel for how some kids might be victimized by a teacher’s lack of (or even denial of) consideration. I volunteered to be a visually-impaired student, and my acuity was inhibited by a rigged pair of glasses that the professor brought into the class.
(As some backstory, a classmate from high school who I had spent a lot of time with had what I had heard was Ocular Degeneration. Though I wasn’t close to him, I could tell his vision was worsening. And, for me, at that age, I could hardly comprehend the loss that he was going through in his senior year. Each week, he would need larger and larger fonted copies of assignments and even stage scripts because he was involved in Drama. As a creative writer and stage performer myself at that age, the demands on reading and seeing your writing are great, but that is just in high school.)
So, in class, we were asked to write three things we took from her course and we were to write them our best teacher handwriting. Well, I could barely see two letters in a row at four inches away from my paper. I took my time, but time ran out. Tough luck, the professor lied through her teeth as she grabbed my pen away, calling time. Playing along, I threw the pen down on the floor. She picked it up. I threw it down again when she told me to stop trying to finish my work. And then I was told to leave the class. Which I tried to do, but realized that I was in a really bad place to find a safe exit: I was at the stairs’ bottom of the lecture hall and I reached for the railing, which ran out of space and then I had to guide myself slowly up by using the hot radiators for support (no hurt, don’t worry). The 10-minute simulation gave me quite some insight and will additionally make me better look at room arrangements in the future.
We finally shared the experiences and how our simulated disabilities affected our assessment, and even some ‘normal’ students found it hard to perfectly craft their responses. We talked about the girl in the class who played along with her assignment of having Tourette’s… we got into a lot that I cannot even re-describe here, including the disabilities they experienced themselves or even the disabilities people witnessed int he lives of family members or friends.
For me, at least, the lesson was a fantastic, almost overwhelming success. We went into how every classroom should be framed on the first day around Fairness for all students, because the rest of the class needs to be involved in solutions as well. Accommodations are not exclusive and can certainly not be just limited to the cooperation of a teacher and student. Certainly, anyone with a visual impairment can benefit from having a partner to write down your answers. The overarching theme that we discussed was that everyone in the class can take a role in what educators call Universal Design. With all the talk of collaboration in my generation’s upbringing (in terms of leadership and group work… or even technology), I think I finally caught a glimpse of the environment that (most importantly) I can promote as a teacher.
Now, just as some icing on the cake… guess what was the third item on my own list?
As big of a tech-junkie as I am, technology should not necssarily be the first answer to the individual needs of your students.