This week I am easily reminded how difficult it can be for some of our students to be able to learn in our classrooms if they have a physical/cognitive/social/emotional/psychological issue. As it is every time I get a cold or other illness that causes congestion, my hearing decreases in one or both ears. This week’s cold has caused it to go back to almost the levels it was when I was in Elementary School and had to wear a hearing aid to learn.
I think it is very hard for others to fully understand how our individual situations can impact our learning. I know that as a teacher, I had a hard time trying to understand how being color blind would impact my student’s ability to learn about color in Physics and did not even consciously address it outside of that one unit. I took for granted that my students perceived the world the same as I did or were willing and able to participate as I wanted them to. Unless we have the same experiences, it can be very difficult for us to truly understand what others experience and how their own situation impacts their ability to learn.
For me right now, it feels as if my ears are under water and most sounds are coming in muffled and unintelligible. I can still hear a lot of things, but I have a lot of difficulty hearing what people are saying and identifying individual sounds. All of the background noise becomes combined and can actually cause me headaches when I am trying to focus. I want to avoid people so I don’t make mistakes when trying to guess what they are saying or look weird when I am tilting my head so my good ear is towards them. During these times I prefer to work by myself so I can avoid those situations as to avoid looking silly or dumb. This is the same now as when I was a student, it is part of who I am due to my hearing disability. I may learn to adapt to it, but it is not going to go away.
Now imagine me as a student in your classroom. Unless you were told about my hearing issue, how would you know that I am struggling. How would you know that I do not want to participate in group discussions or ask questions? How would you help me as to keep me from falling behind or losing points because I am not answering questions or working with others. We still have a ton of classrooms where students get participation points but yet when my hearing is like the way it is today, I would not feel comfortable participating.
My hearing disability does not make me stupid, it just means that I will not learn exactly like everyone else in the class. I do not need a 504 or IEP, I need a teacher who will acknowledge my issue and find ways to help me. I do not need a separate class or one on one learning, I just need to find ways to use the tools at my disposal in order to better learn. Differentiating for my individual needs should be something that is expected not something that has to be mandated. I am a student who wants to learn but my hearing makes it so I have to learn differently, how will you help me.
I am but one type of student in our classrooms and we have many who have similar situations. How are we helping these students best be able to learn as well as they can? How are we using the technology at our disposal to best help our students? How are ensuring that our grading practices and policies do not indirectly harm these students? How can we better understand what they are going through so we can not only empathize with them, but help them to learn as best as they can?