Last year, my first year teaching, I had a student in my co-taught math class (whom I will call Jack) who was so painfully shy that I felt guilty for speaking to him; He was so clearly anxious about adult interactions that he would bite his sweatshirt sleeve until there were legitimate holes all over it. When I asked him questions, even about his favorite video games, he would either shrug or wait upwards of one minute to give me a two-word answer. Needless to say, it was an incredibly awkward experience for both of us. Communicating with him was so tense that I became skittish myself! Furthermore, Jack rarely did his homework, despite me printing out his homework sheets separately, labeling them, and putting them into his homework folder, as well as signing off every day that he wrote his homework in his agenda book. None of it seemed to help Jack, and his emerging skittishness morphed into a veritable concern because he was unable to advocate for himself. I became more and more anxious as I prepared to work with him each day, feeling inadequate and unsure of how to support him.
To build on my anxiety, his mom is what many of us may call a “helicopter mom.” She called me constantly to complain that I wasn’t doing enough to serve his needs. I was doing the best I could– but I couldn’t help him until he trusted me, and she did not like that I told her I needed some time to earn his trust.
My co-teacher and I began to be more intentional about the peers that we connected with Jack. We asked his advisor and family which students he was most comfortable with, and we closely watched his choices of friends in the cafeteria at lunch. One day, during group work, I had instructed students to get out their packet from the previous class. As I was getting materials for a student who had been absent, I overheard another student, Dane (name has been changed), reminding Jack to get his materials out and offering to help him. Dane. Dane was in Jack’s homeroom and had shown a commitment to helping Jack in class, and we knew that they shared a common interest in video games. We moved Jack’s seat in class to seat him next to Dane.
Dane, who struggles with staying focused, needed someone who would not engage in regular off-task discussion, and Jack needed someone to help with organization and academic support. By the end of the year, Jack’s grades were up to a B average, and he was thriving in his classes. Furthermore, Dane, who does not have a disability, was also doing better and was staying out of detention. The two complemented each other so well!
I recently worked with Jack in a small-group setting, and I was so impressed by the young man I saw. He raised his hand to participate four times in the 30-minute lesson, and he even spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear him! He was proud of his responses, and he smiled to himself when I commended him at the end of class. As I sat at my desk after school and reviewed the work that students had completed, I was reminded of the impact that inclusion has had on Jack’s social-emotional development, and his life as a whole. For those of you who provide inclusive services, you are doing great work. It may feel tough at first, but the impact you will have (and already have had) is immense. Keep it up!
— Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.