When first arriving in China to teach EFL, the first year and a half was quite the ride. It was during the Chinese New Year of 2012 that I realized where my heart lies. Children with special needs and the time I spend with them does something very rarely other acts can do for me. It gives me unspeakable peace and joy. Therefore, when I was asked by a Chinese colleague what my passion was, I told her I’d like to be with the children sitting on the side of the road here. Provide food for them. Show them they have purpose. Guide them in truth and love. One experience left an impression on me. I was blessed to visit a school only for children hard of hearing or with developmental disabilities (see below).
I had one particular student in my 3rd grade class who other students looked down upon and didn’t regard any of her comments and actions with respect. I took time with her in class and outside of it, even if English was her L2. It was with these thoughts in mind that my wife and I returned to America for the 2012-2013 school year.
The year back in the US was very informative and helpful. I ended up having a caseload of 25 students who had mild disabilities, and I enjoyed growing with them very much. While working as a Special Services teacher, I learned quite a bit about differentiation, how to advocate, and little ways to make change. All of these qualities are vital for any teacher, but when we moved back to China in 2013, I had no idea how much had changed with the school, particularly in its struggle with some students. The student I had before had improved greatly, and she is now allowed by her peers to be more involved in academic events. The athletic ones still not so much. I have a few students currently in 2nd and 5th grade who require more support in their individual ways, and I love that my classes have these needs.
On the rise as of lately is one boy I’ll call Jay. He possibly has no special need, and I say “possibly” because I haven’t observed him. His mother was told by the school she has to come and observe him daily. I say “no special need” because of my collaboration with other special education teachers via Twitter, email, blogs, etc. The reason why Jay may have a “special need”? He’s different from the other 99% of the school. That indeed is an overstatement, but you get the picture. Jay is in an education system which heavily relies on culture and tradition. Students are demanded to sit up straight, fix mistakes in any subject (Chinese, Math, English) by the tens and at times hundreds, not touch their pencils while teachers are talking, look down and grunt in agreement with whatever the teacher or admin say, and pass standardized tests that are one size fits all. I know, I know…students looking down and agreeing with authority is cultural. But what if culture and tradition don’t know much about children with special needs? Our Chinese elementary principal has told me thrice she doesn’t trust doctors who say our students have “sensory issues” or “no problem at all.”
Now our school leaders don’t know what to do. Thus they’ve decided to weed these students out before accepting them. Say what?! I know, I thought the same. Because of “not having the resources or the team,” future 1st graders have to attend a few subjects on a Saturday in a classroom setting to see how they do. From there, the admin and teachers observe to see from their perspective who may have a “special need” and can’t fit our bill.
This breaks my heart, but I understand why the school has done this. There are a myriad of reasons that would take more posts to delve into, but again, it breaks my heart. These students, children…are misunderstood. How would you feel? What would you do in my situation? Comments from teachers and parents alike would be great! I’m all ears.