• Tiye Naeemah Cort

Special Education: Every Kid has a Problem

I spent some time last week visiting a couple of schools in Boston and doing some classroom observations of my friends’ classes (Thanks, Mr. Mathieu and Mrs. Samuel). My observations were for my Special Education program, and were meant to inform some of the decisions I would make as a classroom teacher, keeping in mind differentiated instruction and accommodations. It was an eye-opening experience to be in the observer role again. I sat in the classrooms and noticed every child who fell victim to distractions, boredom, and whatever cool thing was happening outside the classroom windows, but it brought me to a realization that is far too often overlooked. Every kid has a problem.

Every teacher has their “problem student”. This may be the kid(s) who talks while you are talking, never seems to be able to sit still, refuses to do their homework, is a constant distraction, and/or does any and everything else to make you work for every cent you are paid. Every teacher also has the “perfect student”- the one who is always prepared for class and always has their work done and submitted on time. This student never disrupts class, has perfect participation, and usually has perfect handwriting.

It is always easy to spot the problems with students who make theirs most obvious, and those are usually the ones to whom we tend to pay the most attention. But what about those other students who seem to be doing ok?

As a high school student, I was far from perfect, but I was a good student, which is probably how I can classify most of my current English students. They are “good” students. They have their academic challenges here and there, but they tend to overcome them and do not cause much worry to their teachers or parents regarding their potential for success. I was the same way. I would do my work, study when necessary, and I would always manage to do well. It was fairly easy. I never went above and beyond for subjects that were not particularly interesting to me, and I passed with mostly B’s. None of my teachers knew that I had a problem- a problem that still persists today.

Hello, my name is Tiye, and I am a procrastinator. The other day, I had my juniors start class with a journal entry stating one thing they liked about themselves, and one thing they disliked about themselves. The majority of my students stated that they did not like that they were procrastinators. And yes, procrastination is usually described as a hindrance to great things, but is it really that bad?

I have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember, and it has never stopped me from doing well. I tend to work well under pressure, so when I have a deadline to meet, I often wait until I have a shorter span of time left before I even begin. And that need to rush, that push to finish on time, that pressure to concentrate, tune everything else out, and just do it (Nike style) helps me to deliver some of my best work. Of course, sometimes it creates unnecessary stress when I hit a roadblock and have to wing it through some part of a project, but that's the nature of problems- they each have their pros and cons.

I challenge myself to try to help my students turn their challenges, or problems, into strengths. The kids with short attention spans can target their concentration and energy into doing well on shorter assignments like journal entries and short assessments. The students who have trouble sitting still are usually the first to volunteer for interactive activities like acting out scenes from Othello or The Scarlet Letter (huge boost to class participation points). The few who do not feel comfortable speaking up in class discussions usually have the most insightful things to add when simply called upon to speak and given a bit of positive reinforcement(I know, such a novel idea). The affirmations that come along with these little strategies of turning what may be considered “negative” or “neutral” behavior into “positive” behavior can be as simple as a “thank you”.

What “problems” do you notice in the classroom? How do you work to help your students change those “problems” into useful and appropriate behavior for their learning environment?


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