Yes, this heading is an actual quote from an administrator from a “prestigious” high school in the area. Sadly, I have heard this statement from several school personnel over the years. I just got off the phone with a distraught mother whose probable-National Merit Scholar is in danger of failing 11th grade. Please allow (and excuse) my amygdala to overrule my prefrontal cortex today as I share my response to the teachers, supervisors, administrators, headmasters, and in some cases, family members.
Dear Educator at Prestigious School,
Smart Student has recently experienced academic difficulties, and we are trying to close the loop and help this student. Even though you claim to have a student body that has only 1% learning disability, let me assure you that your number is quite low and inaccurate. How do I know this? Well, over the years, I have worked with approximately 10% of your student body, which includes students with suspected or diagnosed disabilities. Most of these parents fear sharing this information with you. They fear that at the slightest hint of trouble, you will boot him or her out of your school. They fear the humiliation and rejection from other parents, teachers, or even friends. They worry about their child’s acceptance into a good college, so they suffer in isolation. I don’t say they suffer in silence because I hear their anguish on almost daily basis, including weekends and holidays.
So when you tell me that you “don’t see the need to make any changes to your teaching practices” allow me to challenge you with a few points on best practices, which are based in neuroscience and what we know about the developing brain:
1. Is it appropriate to teach college prep material at a college level with college-level textbooks and readings to an adolescent brain? I challenge you in finding ways to teach human anatomy without using a medical school textbook.
2. Is it appropriate to give 35 calculus problems that essentially assess the same skill? I challenge you to reduce the load and have students write at least one problem of their own, which invokes a higher level of thinking.
3. Is it appropriate to ignore phone calls and emails from frantic parents or students? I challenge you to connect with families, even though you are very busy and important.
4. Is it good teaching to assess students on their memory rather than their understanding of concepts? I mean, is it REALLY necessary to have a student MEMORIZE the periodic table of elements? My gosh, not even Einstein had to memorize anything he could look up! I challenge you to find meaningful ways to assess student knowledge based on how well they can apply concepts, also known as Problem-Based Learning (PBL).
We are all part of this community who helps educate the students in your student body. It makes no sense to ignore the needs of creative, intelligent individuals who don’t learn the exact same way as each other. Let’s acknowledge that intelligent kids are everywhere, and even if they experience a struggle in learning, isn’t that the best opportunity to show your school’s excellence in teaching?