My journey in the Special Education world did not start in college, or even in high school tutoring kids who needed extra help. When I was in 3rd grade I was recommended to be tested for special education. This was in the mid ‘90s. I was found to have a specific learning disability, that effects my written language abilities (including hand writing, organization, and spelling). At that time, I did not know why I was being pulled to see a different teacher. Honestly, I don’t remember much about what we did, but I remember feeling like that teacher really cared about me.
As I got older, I would often feel like my mom did not understand how hard it was to write a ‘simple’ paragraph. I remember spending many a weeknight in front of the family computer crying as I struggled to write a paragraph that would make sense to the reader. My dad said he understood how hard this was for me, but didn’t offer any help. My mom would just ask me if it made sense (it did!!) and then tell me to re-do it. My mom always said school was easy for her, so she didn’t know how to help me. She even went back to school when I was in 6th grade to get her teaching credential. She learned a lot of great tricks by doing this, but it was too late for a middle school girl to listen to anything she said.
I always loved history, but I tried to skirt around any assignment that involved writing. When I started college, I decided to major in history. The only comment I remember my mom saying was, “Are you sure you can handle all the writing?” That one innocent question has stuck with me all through undergraduate, getting my teaching credential, graduate school, and even now as I teach kids how to write.
I had this plan to teach middle school history. I have always loved working with kids, and I have always loved history. How better to blend them together?! During college I started tutoring to gain experience working with kids in an academic setting (not just babysitting). This was great! I worked with a tutoring company, and they put them in charge of their little kid group. I got to work with advanced 4 year olds who were learning to read, up through struggling 7 year olds who were also learning to read. We went over letter sounds, sight words, counting, and basic addition. I found the 4 year olds to be really cute, but kind of sad. They were being brought to a tutoring company to get ahead, before they were even in school! I loved the kids who were struggling. We had a set curriculum, but I would teach around it for the kids who didn’t get it. And soon I realized these kids were growing! It was so amazing to see it! That’s when I thought, maybe I work better with kids who struggling, since I understood how it felt.
I decided then to change to a double credential in general elementary education, and special education. As I have worked with more kids, and seen the different backgrounds and disabilities, I have come to realize what they all need is understanding. I do not have Autism, or dyslexia, or ADHD so bad I need medication. But so far all the kids I have seen and worked with just need someone to say, “I understand this is hard for you”. Some kids need more tough love than others, but they all need someone who understands. I often think back to my mom trying to help me, and if she had said I understand, do you need a break? I wonder how much that would have changed my view of school, and the world.
If you are the parent or teacher of a kid who is struggling, just let them know you understand that for them this task is really hard. Don’t tell them they don’t have to do it, but that you understand it will take them more time, and that’s okay. Kids need to hear that they are not stupid, or slow, or lazy. They need the affirmation that this is hard for them, but that with a little extra work it can get done!