Treating All Students With Dignity
by Laura Dombrosky
As my first year of teaching comes to a close, I realize that prejudice and ignorance is alive in education. Students are expected to fit a certain "mold" and those that do not are seen as deviates of the norm and treated as such. This disturbs me as I am a Special Education teacher and I hold an interest in "those" kids, the ones that are seen as outliers and outcasts.
I just finished up my first year as an Emotional Support teacher and taught in a self-contained classroom consisting of grades 3, 4, and 5. "My" kids, as they were called, were diagnosed with a myriad of disorders including: ADHD, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Specific Learning Disorders in Reading and Math. It was not easy for my instructional aide and for myself to incorporate all these types of students into one functioning classroom but we managed. We saw beyond the disorders and saw these children for what they were: CHILDREN. Kids who liked swings and monkey bars. Kids who liked to eat pizza and hot dogs for lunch. Kids who wanted to drive PT Cruisers when they got older. Kids who wanted to become teachers and doctors. Kids who NEEDED love and support as well as a sense of belonging. We loved our kids. We had high expectations for them and they met them on many occasions. I personally felt that many of these kids never had expectations for themselves. No one really expected much out of them. They did not feel as if they were capable of anything. This changed for them during our school year.
One thing I noticed and fought all year was prejudice against the kids. Not stemming from the so-called "regular" kids but from some teachers. Teachers who would "forget" to include the kids in field trips and outdoor picnics. Teachers who would come and tell me, "Your kids" are running in the hall. Believe me, "my" kids knew who treated them with respect and who did not. There were several teachers who looked beyond the disorders and invited my class to their rooms for special parties, who invited us to plant flowers out on the school grounds, who made a note to stop by daily to give the kids little treats and hugs. All I wanted for the kids was for them to be treated like human beings. It broke my heart when one of my 3rd graders said, "Why aren't we going on that field trip. We're in 3rd grade, too." All I ever wanted was for "my" kids to belong or to be made to feel like they belong.
I realize that people do not like to have violent children around them. Most of my kids were not violent; they were just "different" enough for others to be wary. They never really had a sense of belonging. I had to advocate for them all year, which I did not mind, it was part of my job, but much of that was unnecessary. I wanted others to see what I saw. Children that needed love and friendship. Children that needed caring adults in their lives. Children that should not have been judged by their disorders but by who they were as people. I saw that. Why couldn't others?
I am not bashing teachers here. Rather, I am trying to make others aware of the fact that prejudice goes on every day against kids who are "different." I will not accept, "That's the way things are." I think we, as teachers, need to change that. We need to overcome our fears and educate ourselves about different disorders and disabilities and how they affect children. We need to realize about how OUR treatment affects these kids. We are such powerful influences in the lives of children we teach that we need to be careful of how we act around them. I am using this article to implore teachers to look past disorders and SEE the kids. SEE who they are. Get to know THEM and not their disorders. Fight ignorance and prejudices and give these children chances to excel. They CAN and they WILL as long as we allow them to do so.
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