Monday, March 7, 2016

Teaching Little People in a Big People School #SOL16 Day 7/31

Thanks for joining me for Day 7 of the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thank you Stacey
and the team at Two Writing Teachers for all you do for all of us in this community. 
"Mrs. Funk, can you help me decide how to use this in my speech?" 

"Of course; let me see what you're working with." T------ showed me the screen on his Chromebook, and I understood immediately the problem as I read the headline: 
T------ had chosen to address his classmates on the challenges faced by little people. We had discussed the topic as an option when he asked for help choosing one, and after conferring with his parents, who are normal size, T------ had opted to speak about his life as a little person surrounded by big people. 

T------ is the first student with dwarfism I've taught, and I was surprised that he did not have a 504 plan that addresses the physical challenges, so I wanted to hear from T------ about his life in high school, especially since he's a ninth grader. 

From the moment he entered my room, I decided to treat T------ the way I do all other students; I expected him to participate in activities, so sometimes I had to make sure he didn't get "dwarfed" by students much larger; I had to make sure he could see when we learned physicalizing words as a way to memorize a poem. 

When T------ presented his speeches, his head barely peeked above the whiteboard tray, and at his desk his feet dangled. 

During his speech about the challenges facing little people, T------ spoke about the challenge of learning to drive, about not being able to reach sinks, about having to sit in oversized desks and at oversized tables. He talked about the fears he faces navigating the halls at our school. The halls are very crowded, and the footprint of the school is quite large, and many of the halls are narrow. All these issues make school a challenge for students but doubly so for T------. 

When T------ asked me to help with The Atlantic article, which he still wasn't sure he'd use in his speech, I offered to read it first. I quickly read the article and learned about how a little person's short legs and hip problems can challenge them sexually, but I also learned about the work of Dr. Marylou Naccarato, a sexologist who has written a document that advises little people about ways to have a fulfilling sex life. 

I made suggestions about how T------ could incorporate some of the ideas from the article into his speech and paid special attention to the sensitive subject-matter and to T------'s age. Ultimately, he opted not to include the information, but that doesn't matter because he's the one who will one day need the information most, and if he's typical of most little people, he won't feel comfortable addressing this topic. Maybe now he'll know that the unspoken is speakable. 

I and the students who heard T------'s passionate speech about life as a little person gained important knowledge that will enable us to empathize with those students who are small in stature and big in heart. We all grew a little in that moment. 

7 comments:

  1. Another excellent blog post that dealt with the real issues some students face in school and I especially agree that we need to be able to get pupils to feel that they can talk openly with their teachers about anything they read or are coming into contact with. As you say, T's speech taught everyone something new and important that day and as a teacher that is really what it's all about :)

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    1. Thanks. I'm constantly amazed by the unique experiences I have. I plan to have a conversation w/ admins when we're done w/ accreditation. We need to do more for this student.

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  2. What an important platform and voice you are giving to this student (and I am sure all your students) Our kids face a multitude of things that they just don't know how to approach, talk about, or face. Thanks for being the kind of teacher that helps them do that.

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  3. What an important platform and voice you are giving to this student (and I am sure all your students) Our kids face a multitude of things that they just don't know how to approach, talk about, or face. Thanks for being the kind of teacher that helps them do that.

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  4. Intriguing. It's not the same at all, not really, but having children with disabilities has made me very aware of the way in which others have privilege they don't understand.

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    1. T------ talked a lot about the monetary costs little people face. I should have included that info in the post.

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  5. Love the phrase "small in stature and big in heart." I am so impressed with how you just took that Atlantic article in stride and...I guess you high school teachers are used to all sorts of research articles for your students. Not a topic I come across much with my three year olds! What a mature student T is and what a supportive community you have created.

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