South Carolina ASCD Blog

Dawn J. Mitchell and Nicole Brown

1. ) First of all, students with learning differences would hate the title of this blog post because they would not want to be defined by their disability.  They would want you to see them in the same way you see your other students...students with names, known not by what they need or what their IEP demands, but who they are as people like Austin who is great at video games and loves banana sandwiches or Eliza who likes STEM challenges and Clemson Tiger football.  Our students with special needs are more than their disabilities. They have personalities and specific interests, gifts they already have to give to the world, and gifts they have yet to unpack within them.   Labels do not  promote growth, supportive instruction does, opportunities for growth does, and most of all a supportive teacher who refuses to give up on their success does.   All students, especially students with learning disabilities have unique strengths that can be enhanced and areas of weakness that can show growth.  Students with learning disabilities are not defined by them.  We recently read the powerful book, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and were struck by this quote found on page 95.  There is so much more to our students than the labels we use to define their disability.

Recently, I was asked to serve on a panel of educators to be interviewed by an external team. As we explained the myriad of ways that we strive to meet the needs of our whole children, one interviewer retorted, “But how do you make sure you don’t love them into mediocrity?”

Aghast, I was unable to find the words I needed to respond in that moment, but I found some words that evening: Love does not reduce children to mediocrity. Pity does. Two powerful general sessions at the recent national ASCD conference in Atlanta, Georgia, helped me dig deeply into this interviewer’s statement and my strong response to it.

As educators, we see our profession hailed in many different contexts and media:  in blogs, movies, the news, and even TV commercials.  More often than not, pop culture portrays our profession from a vantage point that differs slightly--if not dramatically--from our day-to-day realities as educators. (In 2010, one example that struck Melissa, an elementary teacher at the time, was a Quaker Oatmeal commercial that showed a teacher enjoying her oatmeal breakfast in the serenity of her empty classroom with sunshine streaming in as she read a book.  Apparently this teacher-actress didn’t face coming to school before the sun rose, reporting immediately to morning duty to supervise a cafeteria full of early-arriving students, and eating breakfast at home to make sure she actually had time to eat!)

Today in South Carolina, the need for more quality educators continues to grow for a number of reasons: educators retiring, schools and districts working to make class sizes more manageable for teachers, and an increasing number of communities that are experiencing unprecedented growth and development. Currently, it is estimated that South Carolina’s post-secondary institutions graduate only half the number of teachers needed to serve in our state’s schools and classrooms.