Don’t Speak, I Know Just What You’re Thinking. [Or Students Are Students]

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

No Doubt

“Well, not for nothing, but the student you’re looking at now has an IEP. She’s come a long way from where she was …”

In my mind, I was thinking, “The next word out of your mouth when talking about my students better not classify them as ‘ELL’ or ‘IEP’.”As Ira Socol said in a lively discussion (that I’m not sure he thought I was paying attention to), these terms are often no different than “retard,” “stupid,” or “less than adequate” in the context of too many conversations we as educators have.

On the Future of Teaching blog, I went into more detail about my beliefs about students with “disabilities” and how often we focus on the first prefix rather than the rest of the world. The prefix in the context we give it (and a popular prefix) can be debilitating. This is especially true when the teacher thinks that there’s something to be embarrassed about for the student, or the teacher is defending his or her work in front of visitors of any color, and there’s something inherently wrong there.

Nothing tells me more about a teacher than when they use labels first to discuss students. Part of it isn’t their fault. We’ve been trained too often to make classifications for our students right off the bat. Students get a certain number and letter combination for their main class. They get testing modifications that sometimes make no sense. Teachers get data from grandiose systems that put classification before academic performance. In some cases, the classification is right next to the parents’ name and date of birth. As a matter of fact, because of the way certain classes are set up, even the teacher who teaches these students gets a label for their ability and specialty, limiting the teacher as a professional.

What I’d love to see in a dialogue between teacher and any other professional, more than anything, is the following:

  1. A student’s name and class
  2. The student’s proficiency levels in the subject I’m looking for
  3. Some strategies that the teacher has used to address that student’s need
  4. Maybe some socio-emotional contingents here
  5. How well the student performs in other classes besides yours and the like
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  20. The student has an IEP / is an ELL.

I know this sounds rather optimistic, and maybe even a little naive. Of course these classifications will come up eventually. With all the data-driven education of the day, the state regulations (some of which do the job and others that hinder it), and the plethora of ed-reformers who believe anything that fits their corporate-driven agenda. It’s complicated and, while those of us who want to see these classifications get less priority see some progress, it’s going to be a long way to go. Other labels are on the horizon, and we need to understand how these labels work before we put them in the educational zeitgeist.

After the teacher said that to me, I turned around and waved my hands, saying, “You know, it’s OK. I don’t need to know all that.” In my head, I was thinking, “You’re trying to hard to lower standards even when you’re not seeing it. The kid will suffer if you keep that up.”

I just hope the teacher got the intended and the ostensible message there.

Mr. Vilson, who doesn’t want you to tell me ’cause it hurts.