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I was schooled on perception when I was just starting out in my teaching career. A student, who I’ll call “X” entered my classroom mid-year. He was unkempt, overweight, and didn’t seem to fit in. I didn’t have much information on him from his sending school other than he had learning disabilities, a very limited memory, and was apathetic about learning. “Super,” I thought, “just what I need!”
The 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students I already had were in a routine, and were learning at a fairly good pace. I was feeling successful and so were they. Needless to say, X, did not do well those first weeks. He was a lost soul. I was frustrated that I was unable to work successfully with him. He would look right through me and forget what I had said from one moment to the next. He usually looked at me like I had 3 heads. The other students stayed away, avoiding him.
I went home after one particularly frustrating day about two weeks after his arrival, at my wits end. I had no idea how to reach this student. I had tried many different ways of presenting information and nothing was working. I was feeling like a failure and I know he must have been, too. I decided to put myself in his shoes. I imagined how I would feel if I was him. Coming to a new school. Not knowing anyone. Not understanding many of the new things that were being taught. Feeling like there was no point. Having no connections to anyone.
Right then, I knew what I had to do. I needed to change my perception of this student.
Doing this would allow his days spent in school to feel friendlier. I put academics on the back burner and concentrated on helping him feel included. I would show him by my voice, actions, and presence that I cared and wanted the best for him regardless of what he knew or could hold onto. I wanted him to know that he was valued and cared for and that for 6 hours a day, he was safe and wanted. I would model this behavior clearly in front of my other students so they would learn from me.
I would show them how to act with someone who was different and needed compassion and love.
And that’s what I did. I praised, I encouraged, I talked softly and gently. I started with small tasks and learning. And the other students responded in kind. They started to include him. They sat with him at lunch even if he didn’t talk much and couldn’t follow a conversation, and we all started to love having him in class.
As this miracle continued, I looked at this student. Really looked and noticed that his episodes of apathy and staring seemed odd; like a blanket was being thrown over his eyes. He disappeared. The proverbial light bulb when on over my head! How could I have missed this? How could everyone have missed this? I brought my suspicions to the school nurse who called him to the office.
She witnessed the “episodes” and contacted his parents and recommended he see a neurologist. He was having almost continuous absence seizures in which he would blank out for a few seconds. Of course he wouldn’t be able to learn, follow a conversation, or retain information. No one had ever noticed it before because no one really took the time to look, to see, to change their perception. Lesson learned for all time.
Change your perception and miracles happen.
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