A. Motivational Deterrents to Learning
There is the ever-constant struggle to alleviate the STIGMA attached to the students who are placed in my classroom part-time. I am faced, in the beginning of the school year or at any time later, with the frustration and embarrassment of a student when he enters my classroom for the first time. The students feel that they are not different than most of the other students in regular class and don’t particularly like the idea that they have been singled out as “SPECIAL”. On the other hand, there have been a number of regular education students who approach me in the cafeteria and hallways when they are failing, asking to get into my room, because my students will tell them how much they are learning.
When my classroom was in the basement (it has since been moved upstairs, but other remedial classes have not), my students were definitely embarrassed to be in the basement and hated to go downstairs for class. Despite the positive forces of the remedial Resource Room, the general population of students know that to be placed in my classroom is to be sent there for extra help. The stigma is still there for these remedial students, and it is one of the things that both they and I must deal with.
B. Need for positive reinforcement
When students are first sent to me, they exhibit a negative attitude and an unwillingness to become involved in the lessons. For them, at first, the situation presents an atmosphere of negativism and criticism, and they are on the defensive.
As the adult I am the one who is initially responsible for setting the tone of respect in my classroom. It is by my tone of voice, pattern of questioning, response to a student, that atmosphere of respect for both myself and my students is created. In being respectful, I am showing that I am interested in developing a positive relationship where students will become involved and share their experiences and be successful. As my relationship of respect grows, so does the respect students extend to each other. Encouragement and support is shared and pride in the group is developed. I find students thrive and feel confident in a classroom atmosphere where they feel “safe” from being reprimanded and criticized because of their shortcomings, failures, or inadequacies. I much prefer a teaching atmosphere of respect where students know they are valued for who they are and can contribute freely. They can then be themselves and I can be myself without fearing mockery, rejection or being the butt of jokes.
C. Goal of written expression for “tomorrow” and its value
One of the most important gifts I want my students to receive in my work with them is the sense that what they are learning today will be able to be translated in their future goals. I feel keenly that middle school education is a preparation for tomorrow’s challenges as young adults. My experience with inner-city special education had led me to believe that many feel hopeless, socially ostracized, neglected emotionally and sometimes physically, and are convinced they are not capable of achieving successful professional careers as adults. Many of my students return and visit and update me on students I have taught in middle school. A great number drop out of school in the 10th or 11th grade. Many are incarcerated. Many of the girls become pregnant and survive on A.D.C. and welfare payments. It is a discouraging situation.
It is the typical situation for my present students that their parent or guardian is a survivor of divorce, separation, or no marriage at all. Many receive supplementary incomes. It is a rare student who has a working parent and/or comfortable, stable home environment.
I want to provide my students with valuable learning experiences, ones which will hopefully enable them to make better choices for themselves in the near future regardless of their “home” situation or role-model by their unfortunate parent or guardian.
I believe education is the only way to enable my students the possibility of breaking out of these destructive and limiting lives and situations.
D. Choice of verbal expression rather than written
Writing is one of the most difficult challenges for these students. They see little use for it either now in their lives, or in the future. It is a skill already complicated by failure, incompetency, and hopelessness. Rather than write, my student love to talk to me and each other. I am often amused at how ingeniously they will try and involve me to listen to a situation rather than become involved in writing. They will always try to alter a written task by thinking out loud, so that the written assignment will be as short as possible. I have no difficulty interacting verbally with my students, but experience such resistance when I direct them to write.
I notice immediately when they are involved in a writing situation how their body language changes from being comfortable to uncomfortable. Heads will go down on their desks, a few will tear their work ups couple of times, some will even mumble that they are not going to do it and will then try and talk to other students. Others will begin asking for spelling throughout the entire assignment. It seems as though they will think of anything to do that will keep them from actually expressing themselves in writing.
Thus this general area of discomfort is felt when we write. It seems to be caused by the following reasons. My students suffer severe skill deficiencies which interfere even with the most basic writing skills. Further, they don’t know how to get these skills; they have either not been given or grasped as yet the necessary information of how to build such skills. Partly this situation exists because they are disabled learners; partly because they have never been taken through the skill-building steps slowly and deliberately enough for them to master and retain each step. In being directed to do a written assignment without previously attaining the necessary writing skills, their sense of failure is only reinforced. The major focus in teaching these students writing skills is how to present the material in such a way that they can master the beginning steps and even build more advanced skills (sometime in the future) from the initial foundation. My expectations as a teacher are doomed unless I approach a writing assignment slowly and carefully, laying a basic groundwork of thinking and organizing skills daily, step-by-step.