Tag Archives: self-esteem

Special Education: Redesigned and Redefined

BFyjIO4CMAAXatbWhen a bright eyed and idealistic teacher walks into the classroom, she does not have any pre-conceived notions that the mission statement of the school will be vaguely if at all reflected in the daily battle called teaching. The act of teaching is a juggernaut of sorts: between the principals, the administrators, the board members, and/or the politics — that it may feel like a fluke if the teacher maintains sight of the student, or if the student can honestly say that the teacher is, well, teaching.

Now, add a dash of one, or maybe three of the 13 special education classifications in the mix of students in a classroom of 28 to 30 students. This teacher may or may not have any background knowledge on educational disabilities, best practices for children classified with these disabilities; however it is a safe assumption that within this classroom of students, those who are not or cannot conform will stand out. And by the year’s end, the previously idealistic teacher may be anything but. Additionally, she may have fallen into damaging stereotypical thinking and labeling because she was never given the opportunity or education to think differently.

Most education professionals are aware of the studies that reveal teachers’ negative bias toward students labeled as having a learning disability. These studies have concluded that teacher’s rate behaviors more negatively, put less effort into educating these students and recommend them less for gifted education, even when given evidence of giftedness. Unfortunately, the why behind this occurrence is relatively easy to answer. Despite the progress at the federal level for children with disabilities since the 1970s, the stereotypes associated with the Special Ed label remains engrained in the general public as well as general ed mindset. Gaining access to a free and appropriate public education has done only that. The doors have been opened and the children welcomed in. Yet, the question begs to be asked: “are these students being taught?” Perhaps it is not the students we should be labeling as disabled or unable to learn, but rather the schools and the education system as a whole.

L30009e5et’s take a snapshot of the current system: schools invest thousands of dollars in curriculums that align to the common core standards, which tout an increase reading and math proficiency. Yet these curriculums are changed yearly because student scores do not increase at the expected rate. Some schools banned use of textbooks and teachers, who have been supposedly taught how to teach are also now expected to create curriculums or piece together a decade worth of rejected curriculums oftentimes for either multiple grades or multiple subjects. And within this disorganized system, children who struggle to learn within a traditional classroom, for reasons neuropsychologists are still trying to determine, are expected to adapt and learn in the same way, at the same rate with the same retention as their typically developing peers. Administrators and teachers alike, are allowed to overlook this since their academic background never afforded them an opportunity to learn nor required it of them. Yet the perfectly typical students with atypical brains become the ones punished for this oversight. Not only do teachers have decreased expectations, which leads to decreased effort; being labeled as special ed is shown to have a negative impact on self-esteem.

Taylor et. al found that students with generic special education labels had significantly lower self esteem compared to children with specific labels such as dyslexia. Furthermore, there was no difference in self-esteem between those identified and labeled as dyslexic to those without a special education and/or disability label. The authors concluded that children with a general label “offers very little in the way of an explanation for the child’s academic difficulties and because targeted interventions are not as available for those with a less specific label” This shows that it is the lack of transparency, discussion, effective interventions given to children with non-specific learning disabilities that play a major role in decreased self-esteem. Additionally, it was noted that there was stigma from peers more often associated with classroom labels of resource room and special class than the label of a generic or specific disability.  These conclusions indicate that environment, misconception, lack of discussion, transparency, and inclusion building measures within a community are to blame for decreased self-esteem, ridicule and teasing among students with disabilities, not the disability itself.

This reinforces the notion that schools and the education system are disabled and disabling those students who learn differently. Ideally, teachers and students alike would be equipped and well versed in what ilabeling-kidst means to have a disability, the strengths and weaknesses associated with that disability and strategies in which that student can overcome barriers within academic institutions in order to find success. However, this is next to impossible when teachers are not required to learn more than simple terminology associated with educational disabilities such as IEP, learning disability, and maybe related services. In 2013, 13% of school-aged students in public school were classified as having a learning disability. That means 4 students in a class of 30 will have an IEP and receive special education services of some sort. However, there are typically students who have not been identified or whose parents do not want them classified and receiving services specifically because of the stigma associated with it; therefore, it is safe to assume that approximately 1out of every 5 within a class of 30 students will have some form of a a disability. Yet, the teacher in the general education classroom is not required to have any prior knowledge about the disability, how to teach effectively to students with that given disability or even what supports that child might need; those responsible fall to the special education teacher of the Special Education Support Services Teacher who is typically with the student for about 5 hours a week. The additional 25 -30 hours, the student is left to his or her own devices in how to mange.

In no other profession, would a business that provided an qualified employee on average 13 – 17% of the time be considered “appropriate” to meeting the needs of the business or consumers. Yet, under the current law, for students with disabilities placed in inclusion classrooms, this is considered just that. Perhaps it is time to stop dis-abelling students and start enabling our education system by educating educators to actually teach to the brains, the bodies and the minds of the learners in their classrooms. This would of course require general education teachers to take courses about educational classifications, differentiation, and special education law, but all teachers to demonstrate proficient knowledge in the developing brain, body and mind including neuroanatomy, neuropsychology and cognitive psychology to name just a few. It is time to enable not only students, but teachers and administrators, by un-labeling teachers as general or special education and in turn removing the stigmatizing labels from students. No education should just be general; in order for all students to achieve their true potential, all education should be special and built on a scientific and wholistic foundation of knowledge. 

So until the time schools either have an alleviated pressure to pack classrooms to the maximum capacity, and/or the testing rigor is substituted with individual performance aptitude (similar to portfolio based measurements), the sting of bias and the risk of a child’s learning falling through the juggernaut remains at large.