I went to Wal-Mart recently and saw something that always makes me excited: school supplies. Fresh pencils, crisp notebooks, and brightly-colored folders always make me excited for a new school year. Students and parents eagerly scour the aisles with lists of school supplies required for each grade level. Kleenex® for all those snotty noses, disinfectant wipes for other messes, and of course, an apple for the teacher is all part of the back-to-school routine.
The beginning of the year can be the most exciting time of the school year for some students—and teachers. Sure, summer is ending, but the beginning of a new school year also means a fresh start. You have perfect grades in every class, you may have a new teacher (or new set of students), and you may even be moving up to middle school or high school! While the back-to-school time can be very exciting for students, it isn’t always exciting for some of them.
Many of our students with learning disabilities look at the new school year with dread. To them, school can mean another nine months of failure. At the beginning of last year, I asked my students to write out three goals they had for school. Many of them gave goals such as “don’t drop out,” “don’t get too many out of school suspensions,” and “only receive one ‘F’ in my classes.”
While these goals may have been appropriate for some students, they also assumed some amount of failure during the school year. When talking to students throughout the school year, I ran into several that had what the textbooks call “an external locus of control.” They often felt that they could not control anything that happened at school. Bad grades were because a teacher didn’t like her or maybe because “I just can’t do math.” Discipline problems happened because “everyone is out to get me!” And social problems with other students happened because “no one likes me.”
Imagine going back to school, assuming you will fail and believing there is nothing you can do about it. Who would want to go back to school with that kind of an outlook? This outlook is exactly where many of my students live every day. So what can we do about this problem?
The answer to the problem of learned helplessness is you–you, the special education teacher! You are tasked with bringing so much energy to the classroom that your students can’t help but be excited. Your mission is to provide opportunities for students to succeed while maintaining high expectations for learning and behavior. Your job is to revel in even the smallest accomplishments of your students as if you just won the lottery. Your job is to celebrate your students because sometimes you might be the only person who will.
That’s my plan for going back to school. How do you bring excitement and enthusiasm to your classroom?