This week was a difficult week..not because of my students but because I was returning from being absent from school for two weeks because I had pneumonia. The truth of the matter was that there really was no need for me to be gone from school for two weeks except for an experience I had with my doctors.
When I first came down with a high fever, I thought that it was probably a twenty-four hour virus (as teachers we pick all kinds of fun bugs), but twenty-four hours later I was worse and I went in to see my doctor. I explained all my symptoms. Although I'm not a physician, I had a sneaking suspicion I had bronchitis or pneumonia. My doctor shook her head in dismissal, never took my blood, never even took my temperature. She told me that a fever virus was going around and that was what I had. She gave me a shot and a prescription and told me I should feel better in a couple of days. However, a couple of days later I was infinitely worse. It was time to see a different doctor. When I arrived, he asked me a multitude of questions. He ran so many tests. When he returned, he brought his laptop and showed me the results of all of the tests. (If I hadn't felt so awful, I would have been so impressed with his technology.) What was the diagnosis? I had pneumonia...the data proved it. Now here's the part that really upset me. He explained that the shot and meds that the previous doctor had put me on had slowed down the healing process. Had I come to him first, I would have been better in two days. He had me return the next two days to run tests and make sure that the prescribed treatment was working.
So what can we learn from this experience in regards to our students? First, we can determine that it is important that we don't make assumptions about our students. Just because we have had other students with similar backgrounds, ethnicity, strengths or weaknesses does not mean that the child in front of us is necessarily like our previous students. Each learner is a unique individual. Secondly, it is important that we take the time to LISTEN to what our students are saying...to us and in interactions with their peers... both verbally and in writing. We need to make sure that we evaluate our students and get accurate and reliable data on them so that we know how best to proceed in meeting their individual needs.Then once we know what their needs are, we need to constantly check to make sure that our "diagnosis" is accurate and that our strategies are working in helping our students in the ways that they need.
I think it's all too often (after we've been in the classroom for several years) that we make assumptions based on our own experiences with previous students. Sometimes as teachers we get a little arrogant that we have all of the answers and we overlook some key bit of information on some of our students. This experience taught me to go back and reevaluate my previous diagnosis of each of my learners to make sure that I really am providing them with the support that each one of them needs. Don't wait for an experience like mine; I encourage each of you to take the time to do the same. Each of those learners is depending on us to help make them stronger.