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How do YOU interact and motivate a student with Exceptionality?

Policies Impact Children’s Ability to Learn, answering the question, How can we get more scholarships and access for more Black youth with disabilities?

By. Mr. A. Minor IG: @Mr.Minor.Educates_ Twitter: @Blerdy_MrMinor

I have been in education for the better part of a decade, and what I have seen in the various types of education systems is the way that we as educators interact, manage, and redirect students of color. Not just students of color, but students of color with disabilities. Students with disabilities are already at a disadvantage because of their learning or emotional disability, but when it is compounded with being a black or student of color with a disability, the education system treats the student less than their worth, or that they are less than capable of acquiring post- secondary success, whether it be vocational, trade, Community College, or a traditional 4-yr college or university. This is an unfair treatment to any and every student, and it is an injustice everywhere, let alone in our own backyards and school systems.

I have worked in charter schools, private schools, in the private sector tutoring, and public education, and the disparities that I see are discouraging to any educator who works with special education. Speaking as an educator with a disability, it is both shocking, and sadly not surprising, that teachers do not recognize their impact and how their interactions with students has an effect on their learning, both academic and socio-emotional, especially when it comes to Special Education. A lot of how society and educators interacts with students with a disability is a direct correlation to the stigmas of special education itself.

With that being said, I have been able to identify three different problems I witness daily, on an ever-growing list of issues in education policies, that if teachers focus on these key areas, students with exceptionality would be able to grow as a wholistic student and be successful and feel motivated.

  1. How education systems relate and place special education students

  2. How students are classified or misdiagnosed, and the stigmas attached to those diagnosis

  3. The misdiagnosis of black boys with a disability, and not being able to connect with them

What most educators do not realize, is that there are so many different levels of special education that it is almost like a spectrum of classifications. Because of the vast range of classifications associated with disabilities, most educators do not understand the range of classifications and levels themselves. But what most school systems will do, is they will adopt a self-contained classroom model, or they will isolate all the special education students to a particular wing of their school to avoid having to deal or interact with them. They will hire dedicated aides, educational aides, and/or certified special education teachers to deal with the student’s academic and social progress. However, what ends up happening is there will be students who have an IEP or a 504 plan, and those students are within a general-ed inclusion setting classroom, and because they do not have a visible disability, we treat those students as if they are general education students, when in fact they are not. Teachers and administrators who interact with students that have IEP's or 504 plan are not always able to recognize the processing delay or achievement because of their physical appearance, and they end up treating the student on the same level as a normally performing student. Or, they will have a student with a visible disability, and act as if their treatment plan for their behavior issues or their learning disability is to isolate them from the general population.

When it comes to working with special education, there is a stigma attached to the students: aggressive, spitters, severely intellectually disabled, wheelchairs, visibly disabled, or emotionally disturbed. Although some of these things may occur or happen, isolating students with disabilities, whether physical, mental, or emotional, is a disservice to the academic environment and it is a disservice to the students themselves. It is a disservice because when isolating students with disabilities, we are not allowing our general education students to learn from students who are exceptional students, and we do a disservice to the diagnosed student with disabilities, or exceptional learners as I have affectionately started calling them, because they are not able to learn the social-emotional skills necessary promote secondary success or relational trust and skills, because they have been isolated from the general public. Isolation is not just in a classroom setting, it is also in the home environment, it is also in the general society, because they learn, think, and interact differently, and even with the implementation of the IDEA and ADA Acts, it is still not enough. Some of these exceptionalities come from a misdiagnosis of the student, based on their response to traumas they experienced.

Now when it comes to the misdiagnosis of exceptional students with disabilities, the data points to the growing amount of black boys being diagnosed with ADHD, emotional disturbance, bipolar, and so much more. Most times, those diagnosis are placed upon these children when they are in first, second, or third grade, when some of those behaviors are typical for children that are the same age group. Now, I am not saying that this is the case for all students, or that they do not show symptoms of those classifications, but sometimes they are misdiagnosed, and what tends to happen in education school systems, is their case managers or IEP reviewers keep this diagnosis without reevaluating it themselves with fidelity and intentionality. They will keep the diagnosis the same, so that they are in compliance with the federal law’s timing of when IEP's & Triennial Eligibility Reviews are due. This is quite the disservice black boys who are misdiagnosed, those who want to succeed, but they are unable to because they weren't unable to given a chance to be successful. Now adding to it, a lot of these behaviors are a direct response, at that age, to the traumas in which they are witnessing on a day-to-day basis. Is it fair to them no, and that's why these young black and brown boys are misdiagnosed because they are responding to the traumas that they carry on with them because they do not know how to process them in healthy way, so they act out, aggressively at times, or they're lashing out at peers and teachers through yelling or screaming or scratching or spitting or eloping from class because they're looking for a sense of community amongst their peers because the adults in their lives have traumatized them so much that they don't know what to do with themselves.

Sadly, the list goes on and on with the ways that educators are doing a disservice to black and brown students with disabilities or like I say affectionately, our exceptional learners. However, I propose to you, the reader, three solutions to help us as the embodiment of a true educator, change the world and how we can combat these stereotypes & stigmas related to special education.

  1. Check your privilege & Check yo’ self. It is very important as an educator, as a teacher, or even as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, to check your privileges, known and unknown, and how you interact with people. If you've noticed, people will do things for you when they feel supported, or they feel as if you love them or they feel as if you want their best interest. They want you to have a vested interest in them, and not a self-gaining interest. You must check where you are mentally, physically, emotionally, in order to truly connect with the students and who they are. Every day will be different, and as a teacher we know this. However, how we interact with our students, or better yet our exceptional learners, well help them build that relational trust that is needed for them to want to succeed further than what they thought they could.

  2. Building That Relational Trust With Your Exceptional Students. Relational trust is so important, because it helps build their sense of security with you as their teacher, and they recognize that you have a vested interest in their well-being. This is not just for our exceptional learners; this is for all student as a whole. Even our general education population benefit from building that sense of community and trust with the teacher, i.e., checking in with them throughout the day, going to a sports event that they're in, going to an audition, or just literally being present and building in those SEL routines with the student within the classroom. Restorative justice practices and restorative circles are great ways to build relational trust, and to build that community within the classroom. It motivates students to want to do better or try their best because they feel safe in that environment with you.

  3. Motivate Your Exceptional Learners Like Any Other Student. Exceptional learners want to be treated just like every other student, and they certainly do not want to feel left out, in any kind of way because they already feel left out, in every kind of way, especially through society's views of them and their exceptionality. When we as educators play into a stigma and hesitate on a student’s academic performance and success, we compare them to their grade level peers, and because they are not performing on grade-level that they’re in, we tend to forget that they want to succeed like every other student. They like to have a sense of support, community, and trust with you as their teacher that will guide them to be their best, authentic self. Just like any other student, exceptional students can see you when you are being honest with them, or when you are giving them the veil with the switch-n-bait. Just like you wouldn't want a bait-n-switch, neither do they. So do not let their exceptionality put hesitation on how you interact and motivate the student and their academic success. Are they in 10th grade reading on the 4th grade level? Yes, but with you on their side, by the end of the school year, who is to say that that 10th grader cannot be moved to a 6th or 7th grade level of reading because you motivated and pushed them like you would any other student, no matter their classification or exceptionality. This is where building that relational trust comes into play, because when you are honest with them, they are honest with you and their goals, and when they are honest with you, you're able to potentially isolate their weaknesses so it can be reinforced and built up alongside their strengths.

Although this was a short version of a longer Ted talk, there is so much work to be done when working as an educator and the special education field. The work is never complete in education when trying to promote success for students with exceptionalities. However, the three things that I would like you the reader, to remember as you interact with exceptional students, are these three things:

  1. Special education is on a spectrum and has a multitude of levels, so do not treat them less than due to their exceptionality, when it could be, in fact, their biggest strength and highlights them as a person.

  2. The stigmas attached to students that have physical and visible disabilities affect their motivation and prohibit students access to the curriculum. This is because they are treated like the stigmas of their disability, whether that be Autism, ADHD, Bipolarism, Emotionally Disturbed, and so on and so forth. So, if treating the students like the stigmas attached to their classification, then they aren't going to focus on the learning, they're going to focus on the stigma attached to their classification, and not wanting to be a part of that stigma.

  3. A lack of relational trust leads to the misdiagnosis of black boys, to fit the data needs of school officials reporting on suspension rates, sped data and growth,how great their school district may be, to those outside the classroom in the education field, and it avoids the accountability of school policies related to how the school interacts with them, and the school policies attached to working with students with disabilities, just for the sake of compliance with a federal law.

I say all this to say this, that as a special educator, and an educator of exceptionality, that we as educators need to be very mindful of how we interact, motivate, and diagnose students of color with disabilities. We are setting the tone and standard for their success as they progress through academia, and how we interact with them will invite them to motivate themselves in the long run, because they know that they have the support and their best interest at heart. They know that you support them, and you motivated them to be their best, authentic, exceptional selves to achieve the goals that they did not ever DREAM that they could ever accomplish. Support those students, the same way you would support the captain of the football or basketball team.


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