Why does the lofty sunflower grow so large that the stem can no longer hold the exquisite flower? Why does the intricate sky shows a myriad of different stars every clear night? Why did the butternut squash grow so large this past summer that it tried to obliterate the succulent peppers and tomatoes in its vicinity? Why do teachers never give up on the child who refuses to pick up a pencil and do any work, or who crawls under a desk when it’s time to read? The world of a teacher is full of “whys.” You just solved one puzzle, and the next one emerges. It’s a challenge to meet the needs of the children who come to school every day with a stomach ache. Something is not working for them. One needs to build community for these students, so they can express their fears, anxieties, and joys. It is a lonely world for the child who is bullied on a daily basis, but never wants to let anyone know.
Working in special education, I have been involved in the lives of many of these “aching” children. One is petrified of tests, so we decided to have hot chocolate on the days there are “reviews” (our more gentle replacement word for “test”). This seemed to help create a positive atmosphere around the review. Then one day the little girl entered the classroom, saw her teacher’s mug with something hot in it, and cried, “Oh no, are we having a review?” One child is afraid to talk, while another will contribute orally, but freezes up as soon as a sheet of paper appears in front of him. “I don’t do writing!” a student confessed to me during class, fear in his eyes. We tried chalkboard writing, but the texture of the chalk was a problem. We are still searching for a workable solution. Still other students will not stop talking, so we make rules like, “You may share for four minutes at the beginning of the period, and then it’s my turn to have the floor.” This gives just enough time for the child to describe the woes they experienced during recess, so that they now can think clearly. What then, after all of these different student-by-student accommodations? How do you merrily go ahead with teaching your lesson?
Attending a special education conference recently, I spoke to a colleague about the challenge of getting our students to “produce.”