I recently had dinner with a friend who teaches special education at the high school level. She was telling me about the difficulties she is having with some of the students. (Confidentiality was not broken.) At some point she responded to something I said by saying “No! They CAN’T learn!”
It got me to thinking.
I have worked my whole life with students who were classified as “can’t learn”. I was the parent to a child who was labeled in the same way. I know from experience that people can and do learn when given the chance. They can even blossom in ways that exceed our wildest dreams. I also know there are certain conditions that make their ability to learn increase or decrease. I know THAT student can be made better or worse by the things we do.
We cannot, however, do it all!
Educators can control the environment in which THAT student is schooled. We can control, to some extent, THAT student’s interactions with others. We can ensure that our interactions with THAT student are equitable. We can set aside our negative thinking and look for the positive in THAT student. We can examine our beliefs and our attitude about THAT student.
Yes, we can make great advances with parents. We can show them we know they love their child. We can show them we care about their child. We can go into conferences with a positive attitude and stick to what is observable and measurable. We can make “good news” phone calls and work together with them for the benefit of the child.
But there are somethings we cannot control.
Students spend more than 2/3 of their lives outside of school. They spend it sleeping, with parents, with other young people, and in front of screens. We educators have absolutely no control over what those experiences are like.
Take sleep for example. Adolescents need between 9 and 9.5 hours of sleep, but most get only 7 and many get much less. Experts recommend that children aged 6 to 13 get nine to eleven hours of sleep and kindergarteners get 10-13 hours per night. Few young people get this much sleep. We know that a lack of sleep negatively affects a person’s ability to learn and to behave “appropriately” in school.
Educators can provide parents with information, but we cannot control how much sleep students get.