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

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose6 Comments

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
  6. .
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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.

Comments 6

  1. I’d add to that list (and maybe shoehorn it somewhere between 2-4) what the student excels at and where his/her passions lie. More opportunities/avenues to engage that way, as well as to help the student follow his/her interests.

  2. Post
  3. Interesting post, Jose. I don’t often hear educators speak about this topic.

    Me. I’m disabled. I’m Deaf. I have been in a disabled program my entire life. First in a hearing impaired (gosh, I f____ hate that word) program, then mainstreamed in a program alone with an interpreter, finally I went to a deaf residential school (think Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens). And I’ve taught in a deaf school for the last 7 years.

    For us here, we don’t see it this way. We don’t classify students by label first because we live and breathe it every single day. We do IEPs, we have students with ESL, we have students who struggled to read because their own parents never learned to sign (or any other communication mode for the deaf) so they never had language growing up. I can go on and on here. And maybe I should write a blog post on my site about that.

    Bottom line here, it’s refreshing to see an educator say “waitamin, why are we doing the label first?”


  4. Post

    Thanks for this, ck. I was actually aware of your “disability.” And to that end, I gotta say that, if we left it up to others, they wouldn’t even allow you on the Net, as if your disability prevents you from contributing to the general populace. It just goes to show you how much we can learn from one another and how little we value each other as resources.

    Thanks for this.

  5. Love the sentiment, but…

    in practice, once we are talking about strategies and needs (your #3), we’d better be looking at that child’s IEP. Doesn’t matter how hot the teaching is, how much the teacher is on-top-of-his-stuff or knows-his-students, pros wrote about the needs and strategies, and we’d better be looking.

  6. Post

    Well that’s the point, JD. We should be looking at their “folders” for their info. All that stuff’s mightily important. In practice, though, many teachers don’t even really look at the IEP and just make grand assumptions about the students’ capability. The mentality when reading the IEP is often destructive when it comes to learning. And oftentimes, people make wrong deductions about the students’ performance based on whatever statement is there, scared off by words like “modifications” and “deficiency.”

    I’m looking more for a thought-process shift, not a complete disaggregation of the IEP in and of itself.

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