We’ve all had that student. The one who pushes our extra help away because he doesn’t want his friends to know he struggles. The one who puts down teachers in front of peers to gain a few laughs. The one who acts like (and sometimes says outright) he doesn’t want to be in your class.
This year, I have a student named John* who fits that mold exactly. John is incredibly bright– he has an expansive vocabulary, an immense amount of background knowledge, and knows a lot about the world around him. But John has the most severe dyslexia I’ve ever seen. So even though he knows a lot, he can’t read about it, and he struggles a lot to write about it.
As an eighth grader, John knows that he is supposed to be able to read, and I believe this is why he has totally checked out. He doesn’t want anyone to know that he struggles. So this is what he does instead…
Often in class, John refuses to participate– he puts his head down, talks to his classmates, calls out inappropriate or off-task comments. Once, as we were talking about our book’s theme– that change is inevitable– I gave some examples. I mentioned that next year, they will be high schoolers. They will have a new school, new classrooms, new uniforms, new teachers… And he interrupted by shouting out, “Thank God!” It was tough to hear that he felt so invalidated, so unsupported by me and the rest of his teachers this year that he would say that.
Since then, I’ve worked really hard to change that feeling– both inside the classroom and out. Every morning when John walks up the stairs and past my classroom, I make a point to greet him and ask how he is doing. I’ve spent more time before and after class chatting with him and his friends to ensure he knows that he has a teacher who cares about him and wants to see him succeed. And I’ve made sure to call on him for questions I know he understands– to build up his confidence.
Last week, my students took a vocabulary quiz in class. John raised his hand while testing. When I came over to him, he whispered, “Ms. Hopkins, I can’t read this. Can you read it to me?” In English class, students do not typically have tests read aloud to them (as an accommodation) because their tests are usually assessing their ability to read. However, because this was such a big win for him and his self-advocacy, I was thrilled to read it anyway. I just graded John’s vocab quiz, and he got a 100!!! It is essential that students know exactly what their needs are, and that they feel comfortable asking for them. I was so proud to see this change in John, and I hope to see it continue for the rest of the year and follow him to high school.
Often, that one student who pushes us away, refuses help, and chooses not to engage is really just in need of some extra TLC and an opportunity to feel successful. If you can provide them that, I assure you that you will have made an impact on that child’s life.
— Written by Elise, KIT Blog Editor
*Name has been changed for confidentiality.
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.