I was deeply moved after seeing the new documentary “Waiting for Superman.” The end of the film brought me to tears and I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair and unequal our education system is, especially as minorities and children in poverty continue to fall behind their more proficient peers. How is it that a world leader like the United States is consistently outperformed by the educational achievement of other developed countries?
The film did not mention special education at all and I was left wondering how these radical, forward-thinking dream schools, like the KIPP School, engage and educate students with disabilities. Do these schools use co-teaching? How do they set the same high expectations for all students? How can I get a job with Geoffrey Canada to help make a difference?
Last week, I wrote about acceptance and the process of learning what is within and beyond my realm of control. The documentary highlighted so many problems with the public school system that seem beyond this realm of my control—after all, I am just one body within a highly structured bureaucratic system.
With these roadblocks etched in my mind, I then had an IEP meeting that changed my outlook. We met to discuss a draft Behavioral Intervention Plan for a student with perplexing and seemingly unpredictable disruptive behaviors. But after our school social worker shared some of his struggles at home, I was struck with an intense sense of purpose.
Amidst all the systemic giants that can stand in the way of a youth’s education, I realized that I could make one significant difference. I could be a support system for this child. I could give him positive feedback and expose him to possibilities beyond his daily reality. I could believe in him until he believed in himself.
When I saw this student the next day, I thought of Debbie Silver’s words, “I am a teacher.” And I changed those words to “I am a believer”—a believer in the potential of these children, who need to know that they are gifted and talented and that they can be whatever their hearts desire.
We had a career fair this week and I wanted all of my students to see my slideshow presentation on the Peace Corps. I especially wanted my student with the BIP to see pictures and videos of my travels in Africa. I wanted to expose him to a world that he can access if he applies himself. This is what I want for all of my students: exposure to the world of possibilities that lies beyond the limits of their neighborhoods and communities.
We can actively mentor youth with disabilities . . . even if the system isn’t ready for the radical notion of equality that idealistic special educators would like to implement through active and meaningful teaching partnerships in co-taught classrooms . . . even if content teachers are resistant to letting go of that control over their classes . . . even if we must resign to accepting the readiness of colleagues (or lack thereof). We can mentor them through our presence and the sharing of our experiences and personal gifts and talents.
As soon as I get some time, I’d like to host an after-school event for students to view my slides, research college programs of study, and explore internship opportunities available through community partnerships with our local high schools. I must remind myself that I am an optimist and a believer, and that mentoring is just as important, if not more important, than teaching.
So tell me: What did you think of "Waiting for Superman"?