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About mountains, challenges and teaching (by Cecilia Lemos)

 

When you’re walking down a path and you see a hill, what do you think?


 

Photo by Mike Warren (source: Flickr)

  


 

 Do you think “Oh, no! It will take more effort and I’ll be more tired in the end.” or do you see it as a challenge, something that motivates you to reach for that extra energy?

Why would you want to use energy to climb that mountain if you don’t have to, right? I am not much of an athlete, but I have a hard time resisting challenges (as those of you who know me some might know already).

Well, people who enjoy mountain climbing will tell you that the reason for them to take the challenge, exhausting themselves at times, and climb the highest mountains is the sense of achievement and accomplishment they feel once they reach their objective, once they get to the peak. The sense of having done something special.

The reason for my starting this post like this is simple. I wanted to make an analogy. Because I’m going to share with you here the mountain I’m climbing. In one of my groups this semester, I have a very special student. He’s special for many reasons. He’s physically awkward (his chest is higher than normal, his features and his walk are unusual) and he has ADHD. His mother has him and his progress accompanied by all the professionals you could think of, he’s properly medicated.

But I have to admit I was a bit taken aback on that first day, when I walked into the classroom. Here I had this 12-year-old boy among 8 other 12/13-year-olds – none with any kind of learning disability or difficulty of any kind). I had been warned by their previous teacher, and my pedagogic coordinator had told me to assess, get a first impression and then have a meeting with her. But reality is never quite what you picture. I’ve had students with problems and/or learning disabilities before (after being an EFL teacher for the past 17 years it would be surprising if I hadn’t), but this was different. And I could realize it as soon as class started.

He talks loudly. He interrupts me or anyone else who’s speaking, constantly. He asks questions which have nothing to do with what is being discussed or presented. He repeats questions over and over. He stands up and comes to me. He is either ahead of me on the activity or not following and then tries to understand what is going on. Even after explanation he sometimes does the activity all incorrectly, very quickly, and then is very frustrated at having made mistakes. He regularly leaves the classroom to drink water or go to the restroom (which I know it’s a good thing for him to do, to walk a bit, change environment and then come back with more focus) – I just have to keep an eye when he leaves the classroom, because sometimes he gets distracted and forgets to come back. The other students are mostly helpful, they see the problem and try to help him when he doesn’t understand, try to integrate him. But sometimes they are also the teenagers their ages allows them to be and joke or make fun/comment about him. After the first week of class I was exhausted, and not only mentally, but also physically. I had to give all this extra attention to him and at the same time prevent the other students in the classroom from feeling neglected in any way.

This student is my challenge this term, my mountain to be climbed. Not him per se, but having him in a classroom with other students who don’t share the same difficulties he has. Having to cover the same content and syllabus I have to cover in another group I have of the same level. Those are my challenges. My initial reaction was a bit of despair. I’m only human. I thought of all the extra work it would mean, the running around the classroom trying to accommodate everyone; researching about his problem; meetings with his mom and his therapist to get better acquainted with his individualities, how to deal with them; handling his demands in the classroom; assessing him… Wow! Overwhelmed – that was my first feeling. And I can’t deny the inevitable: “Why me??” crossed my mind.

But then, there’s the other side. There’s this sweet, sweet boy who wants to learn and speak English more than anything else in his life. There’s the struggle of this mother in making sure her son has the same rights and opportunities any other kid his age has (he also attends a regular school). There’s the boy with the awkward smile and eyes beaming at me every time he gets something right, or his team wins some competition in class (when he comes straight to me and gives me a high five). The boy who comes to me at the end of each class and asks me to read his notes of the homework assignment (in his very cryptic penmanship) to make sure he wrote them down right.

How can any teacher not take this challenge? The challenge of going the extra mile and making sure he learns as much as he can, that he has a good time while at it, that he integrates as much as possible with the rest of the students?

So, here’s what I’ve been doing: I treat him as any other student in the classroom as much as possible – meaning he doesn’t get special activities because of his problem. He can’t interrupt me. When he does, I softly call his attention and say we’ll address what he wants to talk about after I’m through with the explanation. If I see his eyes wandering when I’m explaining something I’ll call his name or touch his arm and ask him to look at my eyes, look at me. While everyone is doing some activity he’s the one student I’ll always stop by (I stop by the other as well, but not all of them in every task, he’s the only one who gets my attention in every task). I ask him to help me often: erasing the board, distributing things, drawing on the board, keeping score of the games. I always include at least one activity where there’s moving around the classroom or movement in general. These attitudes have been working out well, teaching this group is not as tiring as it was the first couple of weeks.

For me, the hardest part has been assessing his learning. He speaks very little English in class, whilst his classmates hardly ever use L1 in class. Even the simplest things seem to slip off his mind when he speaks. And mostly, they are things I know he knows. He usually excels in grammar-based activities he does individually. But once he has to produce something spontaneous, really produce in English, he has a very hard time and rarely is able to. At this point I have decided to evaluate him using his own work as a parameter. I evaluated him and his work in the 4 main abilities in the first month of class and intend to compare what he produces from now on with that, so as to see the progress he made. I’m still not sure how this is going to work (or if it is going to work), but it’s the best plan I could think of.

This student is my mountain, but I already see a bit of a peak. And I really, really want to reach it. With him.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Have you ever taught a special student in a regular class? How did you handle it? I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions at how I can make my climb with steadier steps.

Cecilia LemosCecilia Lemos has been teaching English in Brazil for 17 years. She works with teens and adults, from beginner to advanced levels. She loves teaching and thinks teachers can really make a difference in the learners’ lives and in the world. You can follow Cecilia on her blog, Cecilia’s Box of Chocolates, or as @CeciELT on Twitter. One of her favorite quotes is from Christopher Rogers: “A teacher sees the world in a particular way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time.”

 

39 Comments

  1. Barbara says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this, Cecilia. You’ve given us a beautiful example of how teachers might meet a similar challenge. It’s quite likely that teachers will encounter children with special needs during their careers.

    One of my fondest teaching memories is of an 8 year old boy who had a hard time focusing on any language task that didn’t involve movement, but could name every monster and hero, and sing every theme song for TV shows from long before he was ever born.

    I loved being part of his unique universe.

    1. CeciELT says:

      Thank you once again for the amazing opportunity to write and share my story here Barb. I am humbled to be among so many amazing guest authors, most of whom I admire and am proud to have in my PLN.

      It does make us feel special after we are able to reach in in some way and that we see them connecting with us, that we see things working, doesn’t it Barb? I think the problem is trying to reach, teach or assess these students with special needs in any traditional way, try to make them fit into pre-conceived molds. Most times if we try doing that we miss the special ways in which they express themselves and learn. They can teach us so much!

      I am really happy to be part of his unique universe too, and to have him welcome me to it. :-)

  2. Cecilia, you rock!

    I love the way you started this blog with a question which led to an analogy. It did its job: it got me interested, and then you continued with the importants parts in bold. You certainly know how to keep us on target, just as you certainly do with your students! :)

    And I think you’re doing a great job w/ this student. I can imagine the patience it must take. You hit the nail on the hammer with this point: “I’ll call his name or touch his arm and ask him to look at my eyes” You used the three most important portals to attention.

    Vladka and I are going to be writing about these in a blog this week. So, I’m pumped to hear you’re on the ball! Visual connection is huge, and it brings everyone down to a very human, and calm place. Well done!

    I had a group of 4-6 year olds that were a bit wild…. which is an understatement. I had been called to replace another teacher who couldn’t handle them. Two of the were children talked back to their parents in ways I’d never seen in china (and of course to me) . You could tell that they were used to getting whatever they wanted. In chinese, they call them “little emperors” 小皇帝. It was tough, and I constantly searched for ways to guide their attention. I failed, but it was only my second year of teaching, and really the first year with little kids.

    To be completely honest, I was relieved when that semester was over, and I had climbed the mountain. I had learned a lot, and when the classroom environment gets really tough, I return to a perspective that you shared above:

    Their perspective. Their mother’s perspective.

    By getting into our student’s shoes, as stinky as they can be at times (LOL), we can step out of our own and find a bit more peace when it’s tough.

    Thanks for sharing, Cecilia. Again, U ROCK!

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Brad!

      Thanks for the rocking comment and feedback :-)!

      I never considered myself a very patient person (or teacher for that matter), and I still don’t. And in a strange way I don’t see the work I do as taking patience – but on second thought, I guess it does. I just see it as what needs to be done. I think dealing with unruly students, the ones who defy you and test their limits require a lot more of my patience than this student. As for touching him and asking him to look into my eyes – well, I am a very “physical” person. I am always touching people’s arms, hands and shoulders as I talk to them (I blame it on my latin origin) and have always believed eye contact essential (I am one of those who lower themselves to keep my eyes on the same level as the student’s). But it was my pedagogic coordinator who’s reminded me to do it even more with this particular student, for eye contact is extra important for him, for him keeping his focus.

      I’m really looking forward your first post, as a guest in Vladka’s blog. Even more now that I’ve learned what it is about! :-)

      1. Thanks for the reply. Rock on, Cecilia! Eye contact is huge!!! I can’t be underlined enough, and that’s good that you feel comfortable, and that Latin culture allows that kind of physical contact. It’s another great portal to attention.

        Post coming out in… 40 hours! :) V and I are now finalizing :)

        Can’t wait to meet up here in 5 weeks!

  3. What a beautiful post, Ceci! I had a few students like yours and happy to report they are doing well to the best of my knowledge. One used to mark out all the vowels on the posters on my walls. He’d try to write on the walls so I went ahead gave him post-its to write on when he felt the urge. I think the greatest lesson I learned was to be patient and flexible.

    1. CeciELT says:

      Thank you Shell! Loved the way you dealt with your wall-writing student – creative! And you brought up something that I find essential when dealing with students who don’t fit “the mold”: being perceptive to the details because sometimes they show us ways in which to reach these students. And also being open to adopting non-traditional practices. Being observant and perceptive, taking the time to “see” your students and not only “look” at them seems to be a very important trait in a teacher. At least in my opinion :-) I know you are one of these!

      Ceci

  4. Ann Foreman says:

    Thanks for such a detailed and helpful description of a problem that all of us face. Have posted a link to it on the TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil

    Feel free to post there yourself whenever you want to share.

    Best,

    Ann

    1. CeciELT says:

      Thank you so much for sharing it on Facebook Ann! I have to really start digging around FB and use it more for PD… I’m really happy you enjoyed the post and thought it was worth sharing.
      Warm, sunny regards,

      Cecilia

  5. Dara says:

    Hi Cecilia!

    thank you for sharing! you’re great and that boy is soooo lucky!!!!

    Cheers!

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Dara!
      Sharing is my pleasure :-) Thank you for your kind words. I am no different from so many teachers around the world, and if that boy is lucky, so am I for having him teach me so much about teaching, learning and myself.
      Sunny regards,

      Cecilia

  6. Marisa Pavan says:

    Dear Ceci,

    I think your analogy is highly effective to describe the challenge you’re facing. It’s hard but highly rewarding to see the results. I’ve had some students like yours in my group classes and I can understand the way you feel. I consider you’ve taken the right decision to assess your student according to his own progress and taking into account his own work as parameters. The effort these students make is many times higher than any other student´s.
    For me the most difficult aspect of the challenge has been to help these students not to feel frustrated at not being able to keep up with the others.
    Good luck with your challenge!
    Marisa

    1. CeciELT says:

      Dear Marisa,

      It’s very reassuring to get feedback from teachers I admire and have had this experience saying I seem to be doing things well. Thank you so much, it means a lot to me. I agree with you that many times the effort these students have to make is much bigger than any other student’s. I’m still not sure how I can measure that, even if using his own initial work as a parameter. But I’ll trust my intuition and do things as they become necessary.

      And yes, it’s really hard dealing with his frustration when he doesn’t get things right. I try calling his attention to his victories and correct doings, praising him extra hard for those – as if trying to balance things.

      Thanks for the good luck wishes!
      XX
      Ceci

  7. David says:

    Cecilia,

    Refreshing to read your post and personal thoughts. I really think this is THE reason we are teachers (but it ain’t easy) – to help those who need our help to learn.

    I’ve done workshops related to special ed in language (mostly about using technology) but always get grim looks when I talk about the second language learner as “disabled”. But it is true, all students learning a second language after the age of 7-8 are disabled and teachers should learn, beg, borrow and steal the techniques and methods/skills of special educators.

    The pickle and difficult thing is assessing what is a learning disability from that of a language disability. That can be hard. I have an article (posted on my blog) which goes into the “how” of this.

    I just want to say that I really applaud that you have integrated the student into the classroom. However, you also have to pay attention and balance the push in / pull out of this. Meaning, there might come a time if the school has the support, when a pull out of the student might be better.

    David

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi David,

      First, thank you for you kind comments. This truly is the reason I am a teacher, the possibility of making a difference in a student’s life. And students with special needs give you a great opportunity for that because many times they are seen as problems. But if we’re able to reach them and help them in any way we have such a deep impact in their lives. I thought it was an interesting notion you brought up about all language learners being “disabled”… Am not sure what my view on it is. I see your point, just never had seen it through that angle… will have to sleep on it ;-). Would you care pointing me in the direction of the article you mentioned? (meaning, can you give the link?) I think both I and everyone else who is interested on the topic – and there seems to be quite a few people!

      As for the integration of the student into the classroom, to tell you the truth we don’t have much of a choice as far as that is concerned. Brazil has very specific and strict laws about inclusive education/classrooms. In previous semesters it has been discussed with his mother how he’d probably benefit more from a 1 to 1 class, because he’d have a more personalized lesson, an approach and activities directed at him. But she was adamant about keeping him in regular classes. I see her point and reasons for that. I have a cousin who’s my age and hearing impaired (absolutely no hearing). And I remember my aunt’s struggle and endless fight to have her attend regular schools and not learn sign language (her point was that very few people know it, it would disable and outcast her even further). It wasn’t easy, but my cousin reads lips and communicates somewhat effectively, and attended the same school I did and went on to get a BA at a regular university. She just had to work a little harder, and make sure all teachers spoke looking at the class. I really think my aunt’s attitude made it easier for my cousin to integrate herself to society. :-)

      Cecilia

  8. Josh Round says:

    Hi Cecilia,
    Great post, thanks alot for sharing these thoughts!
    This highlights an area for which many of us in English Language Teaching have had no formal training, but have probably had to deal with at one time or another…It is crucial to try to understand what is going on and not just dismiss the student as a problem student; and then try strategies which support the learner – but it is always a challenge.
    We currently have a beginner/elementary student from Saudi Arabia who we think is showing symptoms of autism – but we are not experts on this, nor do we have access to any possible records from previous institutions to confirm our thoughts. The teachers are finding a way which we think will help, but it is very much trial and error.
    Sounds like you are doing a great job, though :)
    Best,
    Josh

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for the feedback…. As I said before, it’s reassuring for me to hear from so many teachers around the world that they (you) think I am taking the right path… As you said it yourself, learning disabilities and other conditions that interfere or make learning more difficult are not something most English teachers get much formal training on. I know I haven’t. The school where I work has done a few workshops on some of them (ADHD and dyslexia),but more along the lines of being better at identifying characteristic behavior, recognizing raised flags so as to take the matters to more adequate hands. Because teachers are not the ones who should diagnose or label any students who appear to have some kind of disability. If we strongly believe we havea student with special needs in class we should advise for the student to be taken to appropriate professionals who have the qualifications for doing such diagnose and recommend the most suitable treatment. I am very fortunate that this is my student’s case. He has been properly diagnosed and follows the recommended treatment, as well as sees on a regular basis the right professionals to assist him (and his family) in dealing with his condition.

      But we all know that’s not always the case. I’ve had students whose parents refused to admit any problem and dismissed the problem as “kids being kids” in the classroom, or as them being “bad” students. I resist in accepting such labels. On the other hand I’ve had students who were medicated for hyperactivity by their own parents, without being properly diagnosed by a doctor. In any case, of course the support of qualified professionals makes the teacher’s life much easier, it helps us understand how we can better help each student oversome their limitations, but it never stops being very much trial and error. Because every student, with or without special needs, is different. Dismissing them as problem is the only thing I am certain to be wrong in such situations.

      Best of luck with your student. :-)

      Cheers,

      Cecilia

  9. Tyson says:

    I think you use this situation the way you should, as an exercise in regularity. I’ve never taught English to someone with special needs, at least not noticeable needs. As I read through your post, I thought about how I would handle not only this child’s needs, but also those of the other kids. I thought about the dichotomy of one one hand, the special attention he deserves, but on the other, the right he has to be integrated into a mainstream class. Then I read how you’ve worked with the situation and nodded as I read. You’re climbing the mountain, I’d say.

    1. CeciELT says:

      Dear Tyson!

      Quite a dichotomy, isn’t it? I agree with you. And the worst part of it (in my opinion) is that he has to be treated as a regular student (yet, he isn’t) but can’t be assessed in the same ways I do his classmates. It’s made me reflect some on how fair this is to other students. And at the same time, there’s no other way around it (at least none that I can see right now).

      I was thrilled (and flattered) by your comment (and your nodding!) though, thank you! :-) And I am also finding out that the best of the climb might be the climb itself, not necessarily reaching the peak ;-) Who would’ve thought? Just the amazing comments I’ve been getting because of the post…

      Ceci

      1. Tyson says:

        Happiness is the journey, so they say. =)

  10. David Warr says:

    Hi Ceci, a lovely read. It does remind me of a story, which I’ve written about on my website. If you go there, then go to Stories and click on Micky.
    http://twurl.nl/tmh3o3

    It’s this lad’s continual moving around that has prompted me to suggest he try the language plants in this post http://twurl.nl/i6ebzk In Puzzle, he has to put the words back in, and he especially will be using spatial intelligence as much as language.

    David

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi David :-)

      What a lovely story Micky’s is! It’s all about the teacher being sensitive enough at noticing what is the best way to deal with each student, isn’t it? I wonder if Steve really struggled with placing those words or if he did it on purpose, knowing it would push Micky into doing something about it… My bet is on the latter.;-)Thank you so much for sharing that story and for the suggestion of using language plants with my student. I have a feeling it’ll be a great addition and tool for him, because it associates two things he loves dearly: English and movement. I’ll let you know how it goes!

      Cheers!

      Ceci

  11. […] that’s how About Mountains, Challenges and Teaching came to be. I’d love if you stopped by Teaching Village to read it and give me your view on my […]

  12. DavidD says:

    Hi Cecilia,

    Like everyone else here, I think you’ve done a great job with this post and touched on a sensitive area but one that needs addressing.

    Unfortunately, in many schools around the world, kids like the one you described are ignored and not given the extra help they need. I have encountered several ‘problem’ students over the years and in nearly every case, the suggestion that their might be a problem like dyslexia or ADHD is dismissed out of hand.

    In some cases, I’ve managed to have some success. I remember one boy about 5 years ago who was really out of control at the start of the year but I found little chats with him at the end of each lesson did the trick. I would ask him away from the other students what he thought about the lesson, how he had behaved etc and he responded well.

    This year, I’m not so lucky. I have a boy very much like yours but the problem is the rest of the class. They don’t laugh at him – instead they think he is hilarious and actually egg him on, encouraging him to do the things they would never dare do themselves. They are 4th graders now and I do feel the problem has been ignored too long for me to make any difference now with my 4 hours a week.

    It sounds like you have made good progress though. Good luck with reaching the summit of your mountain!

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the encouraging words! Sadly what you said about how most schools handle students with special needs seems to be the case whatever the country, whatever the situation (you teach at a regular school, 4 hours a week – I teach at a language institute spending 2 1/2 hours a week with each group). As I mentioned in my reply to Josh’s comment, it’s a bit too common (for my taste) to see possible students who would need some special attention being labeled as “problems” and having things left at that.

      Don’t give up on your student Dave! You have proven before that those 4 hours a week can make a difference when you were able to handle and reach another student. Give it a shot! Do you think talking to the other students (at some moment the boy in question is not in class for some reason) about how their attitude is not the best for him and asking for their help would work? Because as far as I can see getting the rest of the students on your side is your best bet. As long as they encourage the other boy he has all the audience he needs. How is his development in class? Does he achieve the expected progress?

      Hey, maybe he is your mountain ;-) Thanks for sharing Dave.

  13. You are such an amazing teacher! You describe the challenges of having such a pupil in your class so clearly and honestly (it IS exhausting!) yet that hasn’t stopped you from finding ways to integrate this pupil into your class. Touching the pupil, letting him go out for a few minutes, letting him get up – really important with such a pupil.

    Richard Lavoi has a very useful video on the topic called “When the chips are down”.

    I have a pupil like that in one of my classes now. The special ed pupil of the special ed. He’s 18, on Ritalin, very tall and gangly. He needs constant approval. If he is doing a worksheet he lets me know at the end of each item he has completed. Luckily he hears comparitvely well and I can call out – “Good! Keep working!” without going up to him. He has to go out to drink at least twice a lesson and deals very badly with frustration.
    One of his favorite activities is the “peer teaching vocabulary project” we do, using flashcards with the answers on the back. he loves being the teacher and is on his best behavior then, so the kids like sitting with him. It also gives me some breathing space because he’s busy (note: he’s almost NEVER absent, yours too?).
    However, I agree with what was written before by David, a partial pull out program might be beneficial later for him and the others. I don’t have that option (I’m special ed) but I do have teacher aides sometimes and, on a purely academic note, he progresses much more learnign one-on-one.

    keep up the good work!

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Naomi!

      Thanks for the tip on the Richard Lavoie video (here’s the link for anyone who’s interested http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRIKkU6IVRQ ). I loved his analogy, even if I am still not sure about whether I completely agree with his view on inclusive classrooms or not. As I mentioned on my reply to David Deubel’s, I have a somewhat similar case in my family where inclusive education/attitude really worked for the best. So I’m still not sure about where I stand on this issue, but I lean on towards supporting inclusion – in most cases at least.

      Like you, I keep finding ways to keep my student “productively” busy – and no, he has never missed one class so far! That’s what we can do, right? And work on their learning while at that… Thanks for sharing your story and for the advice Naomi. It’s great to get feedback from a teacher with lots of experience on teaching special needs students.

      I hope to keep sharing and learning from you!!!! :-)

  14. Hi Ceci,

    Like others, I’m really glad you addressed this topic. Difficulties like ADHD and dyslexia, as others have mentioned, often contribute to some of the most challenging moments as a teacher, or indeed human being. The fact that these often go unnoticed, with students who maybe have such difficulties labelled as ‘problematic’, is truly a shame. It’s a symptom of a number of things I find currently coming together:

    1) Lack of (and forceful withdrawal of) proper funding to support these students. I’m lucky to work at a college where there is support for students who are identified as having these different needs (I won’t call them special), but I know of a number of places where the process which students have to go through to get this help to be difficult to say the least! Like others have already said, training to teach EFL or ESOL doesn’t prepare you for moments and challenges like this, and is perhaps one of the areas where real headway could be made in teacher training and development.
    2) Related to the above – lack of training for dealing with such cases, although
    3) A culture where it seems a failing to admit that these problems exist, you know, like a weakness. I think some students still inhabit this cultural ‘space’. I can remember teaching and am teaching a number of students who I’m sure live with a condition like what you describe above, but are unwilling to admit it.

    There’s one thing here though that I think is missing a beat. Everyone mentions that teachers will probably encounter a child with problems like this, at least once in their career. No one has mentioned anything about teaching adults who may have ADHD or dyslexia or some other condition. Where I teach (a college of FE in London) I can recall a number of students each year who we highly suspect, or have actually disclosed that they have these conditions. It’s a challenge, as you say above, and not one we should ever ever shirk. However, it can be so so disruptive – you really need to embrace a culture of acceptance, of the students, their problems and how they cope. I’m not sure every student is capable of this responsibility (and I think in 2011, this should be a responsibility) of accepting people for who they are and whatever they are. The added difficulty in dealing with adults with such conditions is that you cannot force them to undergo ADHD/dyslexia screening unless they agree to it. I am sure that some students find this to be so difficult.

    So

    What do we do?

    We carry on carrying on, like you in your post above and numerous people who have commented already. We don’t change ourselves, but we do modify how we work, whether that’s with a strategy like Shelly’s post-its, managing the class, or simply talking to the students.

    Best

    Mike

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Mike,

      When Barbara invited me to write a guest post I started thinking what I could talk about, this story was the only thing I could think of, because it is so close (and important) to me right now. I had no idea it would be a subject so many people would relate to! And at the same time it shouldn’t have surprised me for the reasons you list in your comment. This is something we all come across in our ELT classes, and that we have no training on. the fact that this post had such a great response indicates we have to do something about it, we have to talk about this and find tools to help us better deal with the problem. I feel having students with special needs (I am also not particularly fond of the “special student” label. Still, am not really sure if I like any other way of calling them, because they all indicate being different – which they are nonetheless. Ok, drifting off the subject here, sorry) has become more and more common in our language classes. Does this mean there are more people with such difficulties or that they used to be kept away from classrooms – to avoid aggravation – since they were considered unintilligent or problematic? Hmmm… much food for thought.

      Ok, back to replying to your comment (sorry, sometimes I have a hard time not getting sidetracked with all the thoughts that cross my mind). I agree with absolutely everything you wrote, but your third point struck a particular chord. The worse thing you can do when facing a difficulty is ignoring it. Doing so will not help you handle or overcome it. And what you mentioned about a culture of failing to admit there is a problem, a feeling of shame on the students’ (or their families’) part in accepting and it dealing with it – that is so true! For the students (especially adult ones) it seems that accepting they have a special need makes them a lesser person, inferior – and for their parents (when they’re still young) there might be some sense of guilty, as if it is their fault. How can we change this? Can we? Maybe we should try looking at this like other difficulties that have already become commonplace to us – such as sight problems. People who didn’t have perfect eyesight were probably considered problem students in ancient times, but then glasses were invented and “voilá”. With that line of thought what we need is to find the necessary tools to minimize the symptoms each condition has, what makes it difficult for them to learn and for us to have them in our classrooms. Utopic? Romantic thinking? Maybe…

      I have a sister-in-law who has ADHD and taken ritalin. Her academic life hasn’t been easy, and she has had to work 3 times as hard as anyone else to accomplish all she has – she has just gotten her degree in architecture. But I agree with you that there are prpobably many many adults out there who have some kind of special need and they shirk facing it. The outcome usually is frustrated adults, dropouts… My sister-in-law was only able to get where she got (even with lots of effort) because of the whole support system (and adequate professionals assisting her) throughout her way. But it isn’t easy – and sure isn’t cheap. This might be yet another reason adults refuse to accept they have a problem – cost. at least in Brazil I don’t think there’s treatment subsidized by the government.

      Wow… I hope I am making sense here Mike… It’s just that your comment made me think of a thousand different things and I am not sure I’m being able to coherently organize them – even if I have been thinking about them since yesterday. I’d just like to add one more thing to my very long (and hopefully not all that confusing) reply to your comment: I think there’s one more thing we can – and should – do. We can refer to this to our schools and associations, and propose they host workshops and sessions where we can learn / discuss how to identify symptoms of such conditions and also be able to see whether a student has a real condition or is just someone who doesn’t like studying or has difficulties with languages (something we have to be careful with as well, around here it’s become quite common to say any student who is not a great student has a learning disability or ADHD. Both extremes are dangerous.) . It would also be nice to hear from qualified professionals what are some ways we can better approach such students. It’s make us more confident and, quite frankly, make our lives – and the students’ – easier.

      On that note, Josh Round (@joshsround) shared a link to a seminar being offered by the British council in London on the issue. I’d go if I were in London!
      Thanks for a wonderful comment Mike :-) It sure got me thinking!

      Cheers,

      Ceci

  15. Simon Greenall says:

    Hey Cecilia

    This is a very interesing and moving post. You describe something I feel I should know more about, but don’t. Another good reason to read and learn from you and our colleagues and friends.

    Thank you.

    Simon

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Simon,

      This is something apparently all of us feel a bit lost on. And as far as I can see, our best option is to learn from each other, from trial and error, and from sharing stories – what worked and what didn’t. What would we do without technology eh?

      Thank you for the feedback. It’s always great to get some! :-)
      Cheers,

      Cecilia

  16. Vicky Loras says:

    Hi Ceci!

    Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your classroom and the great things you are doing with this wonderful student, who is making every effort to to do his best because you are a super teacher who supports him! He is in the right classroom with the right teacher.

    Thank you for another excellent post.

    Kindest regards,
    Vicky

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Vicky!

      Thank you for your kind words and constant support :-)
      XX
      Ceci

  17. […] If I see his eyes wandering when I’m explaining something I’ll call his name or touch his arm and ask him to look at my eyes, look at me” (on the blog: http://www.teachingvillage.org/2011/03/07/about-mountains-challenges-and-teaching-by-cecilia-lemos/c…) […]

  18. Christian Charles says:

    Cecilia, thank you for the wonderful story. I teach high school ELA in a rural school district where we have a number of special needs students that also come from poor backgrounds. I have to admit, like you, that I get frustrated with the problems that I face in everday teaching, but when the rewards come, they come in wonderful bursts. It seems that when I get the most down on my teaching is when I get a kind word from a student or parent.

    I try to be encouraging to my students when I can. In some cases, at 37, and when I was in my 20’s, I am the closest thing to a real father that some students have (I am also the father of a four and six year old). Knowing this, I go out of my way to compliment my students as much as possible. Like you, I also give them tasks and let them know they are valuable to me, my classroom, and the world.

    Thank you for the uplifting story. Keep up the good work!

    1. CeciELT says:

      Hi Christian,

      Thank you so much. Writing this post has been very rewarding especially because it has given me a chance to connect with so many teachers that go /have gone through the same situation. We know we’re not the only ones, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that. The important thing is to focus on those kind words and small (or big) victories of our students and take a deep breath and find motivation when things frustrate us. Comments like yours go into my “great rewards” list :-)

  19. […] About mountains, challenges and teaching by Cecilia Lemos […]

  20. […] Great Posts and Educators! •   Love Them Before You Know Them by Greta Sandler •   About mountains, challenges and teaching by Cecilia Lemos •   The Gift of Emily by George […]

  21. […] mas o caso mais challenging que já tive… escrevi sobre ele. Quem tiver interesse…http://www.teachingvillage.org/2011/03/07/about-mountains-challenges-and-teaching-by-cecilia-lemos/ Roseli Serra Com certeza Shirley Rodrigues! Cecilia Lemos Concordo demais, Shirley! Roseli Serra […]

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