This summer, TCU College of Education professors Steve Pryzmus and Michael Faggella-Luby had students write This I Believe Essays at the beginning and end of their course studying Exceptional Children and Youth at Risk. The next postings will feature the students’ final essays.
After several weeks of studying exceptional students and youth at-risk, I realize that my beliefs and attitudes about these students have changed. In particular, I have come to realize through class and also through my observations at Eastern Hills High School that I had access to many resources and opportunities that many American students do not. I attended a predominantly white middle – class high school in a suburban area. As a result, until a few weeks ago I had seldom if ever heard the term “Emergent Bi-lingual,” for instance. Thus, I have not had to wrestle with many of the same issues facing inner city students today, such as speaking different languages at school and at home. It is rather unfortunate that people such as myself often do not think much about students and families whose social or educational situation differs drastically from their own. Moreover, I do not think that I have been forced to experience marginalization to the same degree that some students have, such as students with Autism Spectrum disorders. Therefore, I am unfortunately not an expert on these complex issues, although my knowledge of these issues has widened. However, I still believe that students should not need to be defined by their backgrounds, however traumatic or unpleasant they may have been. Rather, their early life, both inside and outside of the classroom, is a time for personal reflection and self – discovery. Teachers should help students realize their desires in life, such as their occupation, and empower them. Nevertheless, I realize that lack of motivation is a serious issue in most American high schools. Special dedication is needed on the part of teachers to overcome this problem. At the same time, I think that it is very important for teachers to encourage students to discover what they truly believe. However, given that opinions can differ, especially on controversial topics, there do need to be certain boundaries. I hope that a sense of respect and civility can be maintained. As a result, I realize that teachers need to treat this issue with due sensitivity. Nevertheless, many students surely feel that they do not have a voice. On the contrary, I believe all students’ voices are worthy of hearing if they contribute to the class in a meaningful way. As a consequence, I have come to believe more clearly that every teacher – provided that he/she has the requisite training, knowledge, and experience – can positively impact students from exceptional backgrounds. Lastly, I should add that I am awaiting my student teaching experience this fall. To be truthful, I am mildly nervous, given my lack of experience in the classroom. Yet I hope it will better allow me to determine my long-term career and vocational goals.