“...a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:
(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.”
I can remember a time not too long ago when I didn’t have a clue about what I would need to know in the future. I wasn’t worried about it. The future would come. And it did, along with many tough lessons about how not to handle certain situations.
When we’re young, most of us are capable of learning lessons through direct experience, even if we aren’t paying attention when our parents, teacher, school counselor, and Aunt Lydia try to tell us that it isn’t a good idea to play by the river in winter (just as an example).
Not all lessons are so dire or so dangerous, but all it takes is one slip into the icy current and a mad scramble to the bank for a child to begin hearing words through a different set of ears and seeing life through a keener set of eyes. This is the way most of us grow up and, with a little luck, go on. But not all of us.
I worry about Ray. Ray is a student who stands six-foot-two, wears a black snowboarding jacket, and looks as though he’ll be joining the police force after graduating in May. In fact, if you met Ray, he might tell you this, and you’d probably believe it — even though there’s no truth to it whatsoever.
Ray has a hard time keeping track of his schedule, forgets where he’s going, and often gets side-tracked on the way to forgetting where he’s supposed to go next. We’ve tried a few things: We’ve asked him to carry a planner and his schedule at all times. We’ve escorted him to his classes and led him to his bus after school. But Ray always seems to find a way to slip the escort or find the wrong bus, or he simply decides to walk down the street with a group of friends and texts his sister when he gets somewhere, wherever that is.
Last October someone found Ray asleep (and in the beginning stages of hypothermia) on a playground across the street from school. He was out late, wasn’t able to find his way home, and figured the best option was to just sleep outside in the 35-degree weather.
And the school nurse called our classroom the other day to let me know that she saw Ray bending over to pick up something in the middle of the street; she worried that if someone didn’t watch out for him, he might get hit by a car. I didn’t remind her that one of our students was hit by a car last year, right in front of the school — and that Ray was one of two students who reacted a little more quickly and managed to dodge the vehicle.
As a life skills teacher, I value real situations in which students can learn from direct experience. To access these experiences, we often leave the classroom so students can learn to navigate their environment with the level of intensity and supervision that their achievements have warranted. It often amazes me how most students seem to learn from these direct experiences, while visceral lessons replete with near-death experiences leave Ray’s navigational and decision-making skills generally unaltered.
Teaching a student like Ray is frustrating because he exhausts your bag of tools more quickly than a whole team of educational professionals can fill it. In addition, Ray’s cognitive difficulties are often overshadowed by his defiance toward authority and general malaise toward the disciplinary consequences that are traditionally meted out in schools (i.e., detention, work details, suspensions).
When the traditional consequences don’t work, educators are compelled to collaborate to form behavior plans that seek to identify and address underlying causes of behavior. Most of all, it takes perseverance both in the observation of the student and in the communication between family and educators.
So far much of our plan to address Ray’s behavior hasn’t always worked, but some of it has. And while I can’t say I’ve been in Ray’s corner at each turn in our relationship, I’m beginning to understand that he needs more advocates willing to help him, not fewer.
Do any of you have a Ray in your classroom?