WHEN WILL I EVER LEARN?
Recent conversation [i.e., consultation] in the teachers' lounge...
"Ive been a fool. I wish you'd help me escape... far away from this masquerade..."
Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On
Teacher: “I know the IEP team has been testing John. As you know, I was the one who referred him to see if he has a learning disability. I'm just wondering, does it look like he'll qualify?”
Psychologist: “I don't know yet...”
Teacher: “I studied a little about learning disabilities in college, I'm glad we're having this chance to talk -- I have a few questions that maybe you can help me with. I know learning disabled students have a chemical imbalance -- they can't think right… and medications usually help. Am I correct?”
Psychologist: “No, that's not exactly right… they don't have a chemical imbalance, or if they do, that's for a physician to determine. And medications aren't usually prescribed for LD, or if they are, that decision is between the parent, child, and physician. And students with learning disabilities think just as capably as any other student.”
Teacher: “Well, maybe you can help me better understand. What is a learning disability?”
Psychologist: “I don't know. No one really knows.”
Teacher: “I don't understand, how long have you been a psychologist?”
Psychologist: “About twenty-five years.”
Teacher: “How is it you can spend twenty-five years testing students for learning disabilities, but you don't know what a learning disability is?”
Psychologist: “That's a great question.”
Teacher: “Why do you keep doing it?”
Psychologist: “Because that's what we do.”
Teacher: “Gee, please don't take this wrong, but I hope you'll read the research so the students here at school can get better services. I would certainly want the school psychologist to know what a learning disability is… you are supposed to be the expert, right? Don't you think I'm correct?”
Psychologist: “Hmmm. That's the problem. I have read the research... but the kids are the true experts.”
Teacher: “I don't get it. Certainly my student has a learning disability and I'm hoping you're able to recognize that with all the tests you've been giving him. He needs the services -- he just can't complete his homework.”
Psychologist: “I don't give tests any more -- they've all been taken away.”
Teacher: “Now I'm not only confused, but I'm getting angry too. How many students have you tested in your, uh, career and identified as learning disabled?”
Psychologist: “Hundreds… no, probably a thousand or two. But just a quick reminder - I don't identify or diagnose... teams always make that decision."
Teacher: “Wow! Okay, I'm getting it now... I think you're teasing me because I'm a rookie teacher. I'm just trying to get help for my student. You really do know what a learning disability is, don't you? You were just playing Devil's Advocate to try to get me to think, right? I've heard that's what you do sometimes.”
Psychologist: “No, I wish I was. I really don't know what a learning disability is… as far as I can tell, learning disabled students are the same as non learning disabled kids.”
Teacher: “Then why do you keep identifying them as learning disabled?”
Psychologist: “Because that's what IEP teams do.”
Teacher: “Maybe the school could hire a psychologist or speaker or expert or someone who could come in and give an inservice to explain to all of us what a learning disability is. We could learn together as an entire staff! That might help. I'm just trying to think of a positive idea or solution!”
Psychologist: “I've been listening to psychologists and other experts try to explain what a learning disability is for a long time. Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but they don't know either.”
Teacher: “I'm appalled, I'm appalled at your lack of professionalism. I'm just trying to understand learning disabilities and you just can't seem to help me. And you don't seem to even be trying.”
Psychologist: “All right then, here's my definition of students who get diagnosed with a learning disability. Students who get identified as learning disabled are the students who don't attend school or don't like school or have low motivation or have a bad attitude or get in trouble a lot or don't like their teacher or are experimenting with drugs or are in a gang or who speak another language. Usually they are male or some other minority. Sometimes they are the students who are just trying to cope with a difficult life situation, like a divorce or the death of a loved one. Sometimes they are the students who just aren't that great at spelling. Usually they are the students whose teachers just want out of the class. Almost always they are the students who don't do their homework. Almost always IEP teams get together and call the student learning disabled just trying to "help," but often the well-meaning teams forget that, "to help is not always to help." Those are the students who get diagnosed with a learning disability.
Teacher: “But that could be any of them!”
Psychologist: “Now you're getting it.”
Teacher: “This all sounds like a farce to me. I've never been treated this way in my professional career. I think you should just quit playing this game and quit calling students learning disabled if you don't even know what one is and you have no tests or instruments to even test for it.”
Psychologist: “I agree.”
Teacher: “I'm outta' here - I just don't know what you're trying to do. One final question -- are you going to get John out of my class or not? He's hurting my test scores and I need him out now. It's obvious to all the other third grade teachers he has a learning disability."
Psychologist: “Then I don't think you have a thing to worry about... if all the third grade teachers regard him as having a condition and want to exclude him, then we can at least get his civil rights protected through Section 504. I hope you have a great afternoon and I'll see you at the meeting!"