My fellow teachers and I were “professionally developed” again the other day.
Professional development (“PD” for short) is the continuing education that all teachers must undergo to stay certified (i.e., to keep our jobs). This particular PD session concerned “special needs” kids (the exceptional learners), “intervention,” and “accommodation.”
If you’re already bored, you understand how teachers can feel. There are a lot of fancy words to describe what we do every day.
In this case, we discussed how much we should change the classroom, the material, or the assigned work for kids who are struggling. Do we jump in and help them directly? Do we change the assignments a bit or a lot? Do we stop the whole class to help a struggling student or do we set aside time later? Do we allow extra time on the test or retakes? What do we do with the kid who can’t sit still, can’t seem to listen, can’t seem to shut up? How do we deal, in other words, with the outlier kids, those who don’t fit the mold for one reason or another? The square pegs in the round holes.
The classroom is a place with a lot of round holes and not many square ones. Most kids are round pegs. It’s designed that way.
The result is that school becomes an environment adapted and flattened to the majority.
Kids in a classroom clump to the middle in terms of ability and behavior. They form a solid mass of semi-predictable habits and attributes that more or less define what goes on — not only how teachers manage the group, but how they teach, assess, and plan.
Good teachers want the best for each individual student, but they are tasked with helping all of them using tools specifically maximized for the group: the classroom, shared texts, age-based groupings, content specific subjects, rubrics, and universal assessments. The similar behavior of those in the majority can define the structures and practices of a classroom—all the ways a classroom breaks social connections, directs attention, organizes information, encourages activity, frames conversations, streamlines and clarifies assessment. These are the kids you can mostly get to focus on the work by seating them at desks in various configurations. They are the ones who can absorb information from a person at the front of the room, who can take notes and sit still and resist the urge to throw things and internalize their boredom.
The result is that school becomes an environment adapted and flattened to the majority of the population’s age, content needs, abilities, and behaviors.
Some kids struggle. Not at all once, and not entirely, but always in ways that can be disruptive to the classroom environment and their own ability to learn.