The Label of “Special Ed”

by Patrick on October 5, 2010

Illustration of Patrick“I’m not special ed, and I’m not going to that stupid classroom anymore. I’m going to be in the regular classroom just like any one else,” screamed my brand spanking new student. I was taken back both by her confidence and her small size. I was even more surprised because this was open house. I’d only known the child for ten seconds.

Her mother told me she had an IEP-an individual learning plan for children with disabilities. I told her I’d read it in a week or two. I prefer to get a solid impression of a child first hand before delving into the specialist and doctor’s prognosis and opinions.

The child was attentive and a quick thinker. She was pleasant and got along well with the kids. She was a delight to have in class. When her IEP finally rolled across my desk I quickly skimmed it.

The picture it painted was so off base, I had to ask the administration if it was the wrong child.

Her academic goal was to read words like “bed” and “lake.” Two days prior we had read words like “President,” “moment” and “reservoir.” The IEP was not even a year old.

I thought I was hallucinating. How is could this be possible?

I have a document in one hand that’s painting a dismal picture of her intellectual and social capabilities and a child in front of me who could read the preamble of the Constitution.

Even more disturbing was how she was so mislabeled. A label she and her family had all taken on. A label that surmised how much she was able to learn and perform in the world. A prognosis some people would even carry into their adulthood.

A label, as she proudly announced that first day, she would no longer be carrying.


Dana theTeacher October 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm

I teach special education behavior and emotionally disabled kids as a general education teacher in an alternative school-a mouthful, I know. A lot of times, I get kids who have academic skills, but their emotional and behavioral interference prevents them from being accurately tested and assessed. Perhaps this was the case with your student.
Dana theTeacher´s last blog post ..Teachers-The Best Free Websites to Backup Your Materials and Lessons Online

Melissa October 12, 2010 at 8:35 am

Thanks for sharing that perspective, Dana. It’s funny, but I’ve seen this happen throughout the years, but this is the first year I’ve seen it happen with so many clients. It’s so important for the people who are administering the assessments to build a relationship and a level of trust before they administer the tests. Can you think of any ways that can happen? I know their case loads are so heavy and they’re stretched for time as it is, especially with budget cuts. I think it’s important to get this piece figured out, though, because it has such a huge impact on their school experience. And not all teachers have the ability to “look beyond” as Patrick does, and sadly the ones that can sometimes just don’t have the time.