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Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Remember Stupid!

I don’t remember his name, I could look it up in my past student records, but his name doesn’t really matter, he called himself stupid sometimes and the other students called him that all the time.  He was a LD (learning disabled) student. I didn’t know what his learning disability was because I didn’t look up his student records, I never looked up my students records because I didn’t want them to prejudice me against or for the student.  When class started he began to follow his usual path with any teacher new to him, he told me later that was his normal behavior, by being loud, obnoxious and saying stupid things he could avoid having to answer questions. I don’t think he really tried to say stupid things, I think his brain just sparked and his mouth opened and it rolled out without any conscious thought. He was the kind of person who would have told his father that his mother was having an affair with the milkman without ever thinking about the consequences. I never was a teacher who relied on referrals to the office or physical punishment for offenses in my classroom. I simply let any problem student know that I was as quick with my criticism as my praise.  Stupid soon learned that it was not in his best interest to speak out in an inappropriate manner in my class and we were able to proceed with class in a normal fashion.

My teaching style had always been more of a discussion type than lecture or textbook oriented. I was actually a vocational technical teacher. I had always accepted students in my classes who were academically underachievers, many of them having poor reading skills.  I was teaching life skills so it was more important that the students be able to perform in the real world than in a traditional academic environment, after all how do you teach a non reader?  Not by sticking their head in a book.  This style suited the Learning Disability type student because they could achieve and learn without a lot of reading. 

Stupid didn’t have many student friends.  His mouth generally caused him to be the brunt of much ridicule, jokes and even hostility by other students. He was the type of person that other people love to torment, verbally at least.  Due to the way he had started out in class he had already established that reputation with the other students and I had as much trouble keeping them from verbally responding to him as I did initially keeping him from making his inappropriate statements.  When someone would make fun of him, his standard answer was that his mom and dad couldn’t read and they had done OK, so he didn’t really need to go to school anyway.  Not long into the class however a change began to come over him. One day we were discussing learning disabilities, which was a subject area I always covered early in class; so that I could be sure that students who had disabilities  understood that it was a physical disability and not a mental one. I also wanted the other students to understand and maybe have a little more tolerance and acceptability.  We were discussing dyslexia and suddenly Stupid spoke out, as always, and said “that is what I have”. I asked him how he knew, had a teacher told him?  He said no, he had just figured it out because every time he saw a word with the letter O and the letter F together in it they would be reversed.  He explained how “of” looked like “fo”, how “for” looked like “ofr” and how several other words appeared to him.  He asked why no one had ever told him that dyslexia  was what was wrong with him and he got quite upset.  I explained to the class by writing a long sentence on the board with several examples as he would have seen them rather than how they were actually correctly written, asking him or guidance in my writing.  I explained how difficult it was to learn to read when a teacher was telling you that “fof” was “off” but to you it was “fof”.  When I finished my example he spoke out quite adamantly stating that he had always thought he was stupid and that everyone else saw things just like he did.  I explained to the class that the LD was a problem with the brain processing what the eye saw rather than what was actually there and was not at all an indicator of intelligence.  I explained that LD took many forms; in some the brain only remembers well what it hears, making it difficult to learn in a noisy environment and then explained other variations of learning disabilities.

Suddenly Stupid wasn’t stupid any longer.  He started listening and paying attention.  He asked me for help and I gave him some simple reading exercises to help him learn to read by compensating for his disability.  It was a little late in his academic career, he was a senior at that point, but he went after it like a Chicken after a June Bug.  The real noticeable change came in my class.  Since it was a discussion class I normally asked questions and called on or allowed students to volunteer answers. I always phrased the questions so the students had to think to come up with the right answers even when the concept was a simple one. We were not dealing with what two plus two equals but with such things as - What do you say to an employer when they tell you are being laid off.  Suddenly Stupid began to amaze the other students.  I would ask a complicated question and he would raise his hand, and he would have the right answer when most of the rest of the class was at least not sure.  He always had the right answer. He had gone from being stupid to being smarter than most of the other students in the class, at least in their eyes.  It surprised the other students and I think it even surprised him.  He began to think instead of just opening his mouth.  Eventually I had to ask him to limit himself to three answers a day because it had gotten to the point that when I asked a question the other students would literally look to him for the answer.  He was destroying my technique with the other students.  I asked him to write his answers to the questions and I would give him daily extra credit even if the spelling was not correct.

His sudden outstanding performance had another fortunate consequence for me as a teacher of that class.  After things settled down and all of us had adapted to the new personality in our class the other students actually began to try harder.  I guess I will never know if they did this because they didn’t want to be shown up by someone they had thought stupid and discovered wasn’t of if it was because they saw him achieve success and wanted a little of their own.  I do know that that class developed into a very enjoyable teaching and learning experience.

I haven’t kept up with him; last I heard he was a journeyman in one of the skilled trades, carpenter, plumber or one such trade. I do know that several people changed their opinions about stupid that semester. I also know that Stupid was far from stupid.

1 comment:

  1. I have DL myself, and often jumble letters, and number.s Wonderful story!