It’s funny how when I look back on the biggest challenges in my life, I realize those were the moments that pushed me to be better, to be more, to push through my comfort zone into a whole new world of possibilities.
Yesterday I was chatting with someone about how hard it can be to parent a child with learning difficulties or other challenges in the context of school. I mentioned that I had experienced how hard it is from both sides. Wanting to give more and advocate for my own child, but also having to face the daunting task of teaching a class with so many learning differences that I felt overwhelmed and hopeless.
I mentioned that in my very first class, on my very first day of teaching, I had a group of 25 students, 18 of whom had IEPs, six of whom had specific requirements to be seated in the front center seat.
We both laughed a bit at how ludicrous that is. What are they supposed to do, sit in each other’s laps? How do you even handle that?
Then my friend said, “No really, what did you do?”
And I realized that was the moment I knew traditional classes don’t work because they usually end up sacrificing someone to a “norm.” The child with disabilities. The kid with ADHD. The kid dealing with trauma or difficult home life. The new teacher who is desperate to do the best by her students. And the worst part? “Normal” doesn’t even exist.
So I set out to change everything about how I was taught to teach. I set out to challenge my own expectations. I set out to be a better teacher, parent, and human being. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it because that is how my journey began. That’s why I am where I am today, and it’s why I am still challenging myself.
Oh, and, to answer the question… I decided that EVERY child was special so every child got a copy of my notes and slides, electronically, every single day, so that they would still have the important information even if they didn’t have the perfect front-row seat.
Soon I was flipping my classroom and making it more hands-on and group-centered, rather than lecture-led. By the time I left the classroom I rarely “lectured” for more than 10 minutes a class, because that didn’t feel like a good use of the time we had together.
So basically I solved the front-row problem by eliminating the front row. Everyone had a “front-row” seat to learning, as they should.