In the typical Industrial Era “teach to the top” American schoolroom the general population is taught to suppress their individuality for the sake of the whole in order to be a good student. Kids are expected to engage in academia by being well-behaved boys and girls; by listening, learning and then leaving to fulfill their academic obligations of homework et al. The twice-exceptional (2e) child, however, inherently has a hard time toeing this line. The 2e child operates on a roller coaster of intense emotions and feelings and a spectrum of learning ability that fluctuates between moments of extreme acumen and moments of deficiency. So even though they may be bright, this oftentimes gets the 2e student pegged as difficult, or learning disabled, and they may find themselves eventually becoming depressed, distracted and displaced from their original love of learning. Sometimes this leads to a student’s reputation as troublesome which can further make a youth disassociate from the system. As an educator myself, I have seen this happen all too often. This is why I chose to open Reid Day School, to give those 2e students a chance to shine on their own accord.
The true definition of learning is the act of acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing, existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. I used to think that I could facilitate learning best by holding high expectations, believing that my students could meet them, and that then they eventually would. Although a good majority of them did, some did not. Regretfully, I mistakenly believed that the few who did not had problems beyond my control.
This led me to try to understand how those kids who seemed to be doing poorly in this system could best be led to shine. I became convinced that 2e students needed things that so-called “normal” students did not. They needed their social and emotional needs to be considered in the classroom and they needed differentiated instruction and different modalities that were customized to their unique personalities so that they could excel in learning.
Around seven years ago, I began to realize what it meant to respect the true inner dignity of my students, as well as their minds, their feelings and the ways in which they were shaped. It has been a long road of continual learning since that time and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to be immersed in the brilliance and intensity that 2e kids have to offer in my classroom. It made me realize the importance of the whole child as well as brain based instruction that integrates strengths and interests.
I wanted to create a safe place where 2e kids in Orange County could find learning truly tailored to their needs in an environment where they could feel like the new normal. I have learned to maintain high expectations while understanding what it truly means to respect the inner integrity of students. I have continued to teach to the top but I have a much different understanding of what that involves.
Some of these things include:
- Getting to know my students as individuals
- Giving students the benefit of the doubt
- Respecting that there are times when students aren’t completely available to give 100%
- Knowing when they can
- Understanding that behavioral issues mean that there is a discrepancy between what I have asked a student to do and what they are able to do.
- Believing that all students want to do well
- Understanding that they can meet objectives in alternative ways
- Providing explicit expectations and feedback
- Knowing that learning profiles are very complex and having the background and understanding needed to approach them effectively
- Supporting their variable needs through appropriate accommodations and accelerating learning opportunities where they have strengths
- Listening to and supporting their ideas no matter how far fetched they seem
- Involving students in goal setting, monitoring and reflecting upon their progress so that they can take ownership of their learning.
With this next paradigm shift in education, we are seeing more extremes with many educators and educational atmospheres moving from a one-size fits all approach to an approach that has no expectations, especially for students with special needs. There is a middle ground but until the educational system at large embraces it, we will continue to offer excellence in learning to a niche of those who are twice-exceptional.