One teacher. Thirty-eight students. Students with unique needs, challenges, backgrounds, and learning styles.
Teachers, admirably dedicated to the education of students, must attempt to convey information to these students with a generally one-size-fits-all approach (for lack of time, space, resources, etc.). Unfortunately, this means many students with learning challenges, whether subtly unnoticed or medically diagnosed, fall through the metaphorical cracks in the classroom.
Growing up in public school, I observed this occasion time and time again, with exhausted teachers stretched thin and students feeling too self-conscious, unaware, or overlooked to ask for help. This situation becomes especially prominent for students with mental disabilities, who are often working twice as hard to complete the same assignments as their peers.
So, how can classrooms diversify their learning environment for widespread student needs? On an individual level, here are some potential support options and proactive arrangements to consider:
- Accommodations: In-class accommodations can be a complete game-changer for any student with a learning challenge. Whether it is extended test time, modified assignments, closed captioning, or a variety of other services, even a minor accommodation can make a huge impact to meet student needs. Typically, these are arranged through Disability Services, IEP meetings, and 504 plans. If you, or any student you know, may be qualified for these accommodations, please don’t hesitate to explore those resources in schools. It never hurts to ask for more information about appropriate testing/diagnoses, and being educated about these options puts power into the hands of parents and students.
- External Resources: Many private companies offer tutoring, speech and language therapy, and other services to complement in-class learning. While some may be less accessible due to cost, there is an increasing demand for these resources and some may even be covered by insurance.
- Parental Support: For young children especially, parental attention to their child’s needs and learning styles is powerful. Parents can communicate with teachers about their child, identify learning needs, and seek resources to complement their child’s in-class education.
- Self-Advocacy/Initiative: With large numbers of students– especially in high school and college with teachers managing multiple class rosters– it can be hard for teachers to solidify a personal connection with each student. Therefore, students can benefit greatly from reaching out to teachers, whether after class, via email, or during office hours, to establish a relationship. This is beneficial on many levels, including mentorship and advising, but especially the opportunity to self-advocate about your learning experience. Most teachers are passionate about helping their students, so chances are, they will be eager to receive information about any learning struggles. They can also direct students to the appropriate resources if needed.
Just remember, educators, parents, and students should never feel powerless; your education, after all, should be your education. It can be easy to feel discouraged in a system with widespread, diverse classroom needs; however, there are so many helpful services and resources to take action today!