By Dean Pan, ABC
Over my 9 years in a wheelchair, I have learnt to adapt to many situations.
People often doubt my ability to do basic tasks, and even though that’s sometimes true, through hard work and passion, and with the help from others, I constantly find ways to go against the stereotype.
Having a disability comes with its limitations but it won’t completely hold someone back.
Currently, I’m in my final year of teaching, and the biggest incentive for me being a teacher is the opportunity to improve the lives of younger individuals.
During my placements, there have been countless positive experiences in the classroom. One standout was teaching a student who used a wheelchair and found woodworking quite difficult. It appeared she may have been seeing her disability as the cause, yet I saw she was trying to use the handsaw incorrectly. It wasn’t her disability holding her back, it was her mindset. Her eyes lit up when she realised she could do it.
When I was younger, I struggled with using hand tools, but when my teacher found a way around it, I felt like I could build anything then topped the class in HSC Industrial Technology: Timber.
Teaching a student with a disability may be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have, but it comes with its challenges.
Differentiation is crucial
You’ll need to adapt the way your disabled student can complete tasks.
Afterwards, ask the student to give you feedback on the tasks you’re giving them, to make sure they feel like they have the best opportunity for academic success.
It helps to build rapport, so use break times to go into the playground and have lunch with the students. Relationships are key to engaging your students.
Too often I hear stories of teachers being overly strict, and students express to me that their teachers aren’t listening to them. Reflect on yourself and your teaching practice. Ask yourself, “When a student is in my class (or talking to me), what are they up against?”
Avoid deficit thinking
Your student would be a regular developing individual like everyone else if they didn’t have their condition. So, speak directly to them, not to their teacher’s aide or support worker.
Often when I’m out for dinner with my wife, the waitstaff will speak to her first or even say, “What will he be having?” Avoid this at all costs. My school was very on top of this, and I was always included in the classroom discussions, just like everyone else. Same goes with calling students inspirational — this is borderline objectification. People with disabilities don’t exist to make others feel more inspired.
Have a growth mindset
The goal of learning and assessment is based on knowledge and skills, not physical ability.
All students need to know that they have the ability to learn new skills — just as though they’re learning a musical instrument. A growth mindset is their ticket to becoming an adaptable and teachable individual, ready to explore the world.
It also helps if you encourage a passion for long term goals.
Click here to read the full article on ABC.