Peter (not his name) is 15, with nary a stubble on his pinkish cheeks, and yet he is already a genius with computers. Some teachers don’t even bother with tech support, a very slow and inefficient service; they interrupt a class and ask for him, the teen who can fix anything electronic, whether hard- or software. The incredible story is that he was diagnosed with a severe learning disability and belongs, ipso facto, to special education. I suspect a touch of autism also, though his assessment doesn’t mention it. After all, aren’t we all a bit autistic, a word that means “love of self?”
We the teachers tend to prejudge kids who give us a hard time, especially in high school, though I’ve heard one colleague complain bitterly about the 5-year old who didn’t stop pulling the girls’ pony tails. When they become teens, students have gone through the most important years of their life and we know nothing about them. Yes, we have records from elementary and middle schools, but these are cold numbers that reveal little about their personal circumstances. Numerous changes of address may signal extreme poverty or parents trying to avoid the law (drug trafficking or illegal status are not uncommon); different last names between the son and his mother indicate a tumultuous relationship in the family; several health problems, as stated by the pediatrician on record, tell us that the student spent part of his life in hospitals and away from school; simple labels for special education are more than just the tip of a learning disability, they prove that the student has suffered some degree of humiliation from peers and, sometimes, even from teachers.