I think his name was Daniel. I taught Daniel years ago in South Carolina. He was in my “tech prep” English class for kids not aiming for college. Daniel was clinically deaf, surrounded by 31 very loud, sort of obnoxious, hard to handle classmates.
According to his accommodations, he sat right up front, as close to my voice as possible, but he rarely wore his hearing aids. There were no para-professionals trained in sign language. It was just the two of us (and a lot of written directions) trying to navigate through English class.
But there was nothing in his paperwork that described how being deaf manifested into sleeping in class or failure to turn in assignments or lack of effort in daily routines. I might now, through hindsight and accumulated years of experience, attribute his apathy to years of feeling isolated, but at the time, in a room full of rowdy students, I was in survival mode for Daniel and for me.
Unaware of how to help Daniel, my only recourse was to call momma.
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I showed her Daniel’s empty work folder, gave her a grade update and offered her a synopsis of his lack of effort in class. Then I asked for her help. Perhaps I didn’t express myself exactly enough, because she berated me to the point of tears. She blamed his low grade on my unwillingness to assist his hearing in class. Despite my daily efforts on Daniel’s behalf and despite his opposite ones, all of which she was unaware, momma only saw his failing grade.
No matter what I said, she was not going to change her mind. It was all my fault.
This run-in happened a long time ago, before I learned that reasoning with some parents is futile. And certainly, times have changed. Or have they?
Indeed, times are different, but maybe not better. With Daniel, he was the only student needing special assistance in that class. One of 32. He definitely deserved things I couldn’t give him, not for a lack of desire, but for a lack of training. In modern-day classrooms, however, teachers have, on average, six to eight students like Daniel. Usually all with different disabilities, health issues, behavior challenges, etc. More kids needing something teachers may or may not be trained to give.
I wasn’t and still am not a psychologist. I’m not a doctor and haven’t been trained as a therapist. I don’t have a special education degree and I’m no nutritionist. I just teach English, and I’m darn good at it. So, for me and many other classroom teachers, we exist in survival mode with many students who need and deserve assistance and accommodations we are not equipped to offer.
I understand the argument that classroom teachers must teach who is sitting in their classroom. I get it, and believe me, that is the utmost desire for teachers. Every child deserves the very best educational opportunity. We don’t want to see our ‘Daniels’ struggle. But the sad, harsh reality is, there is a breakdown no one can understand unless he or she has spent extended time in a modern-day classroom.
It’s a frustrating dilemma for everyone involved, and the ones who lose the most are the kids who legitimately need and deserve certain things they may not be getting. For Daniel, a ranting mother and a teacher at her wit’s end did nothing to get him closer to a passing grade. And sadly, that’s the case for many students nowadays.