I took an Uber home from the airport recently after attending a meeting. Almost without exception, when I take an Uber, I have the opportunity to hone my elevator speech about the SWIFT mission and core purpose of our efforts. This particular ride and sharing was uber interesting.
My driver, a young man in maybe his early 30s, and I made small talk for awhile about his job, the weather, traffic, and so on. Then he politely inquired about what I do for work. I explained a bit about how we partner with teams of people in states, districts, schools to re-design teaching and learning to give all students—not just some—access to the supports they need to be successful in the school curriculum. Bottom line: instead of making the students fit the way schools are designed, we design schools to be responsive to students’ learning needs.
We chatted a bit more about this and then he went quiet for a few moments. When he spoke again, he said, “You know, I’ve got a learning disability. I have difficulty with auditory processing.” I said I had some familiarity with what he was talking about, and then he shared a story that was both sad and deeply meaningful about the importance of our work.
“I was in elementary school and I remember that each year the special education teacher would come to the door of my classroom, name me and some other kids, and then say we needed to go with her. The other kids didn’t know where we were going. But there was one year, it was in 6th grade, when the special education teacher came to the door, one of the kids whose name she called said, ‘Oh no, special education again!’ I was so embarrassed, I wanted to crawl under a rock. But what was worse than that was that I’d miss so much work in the classroom. I kept getting pulled out and get so far behind that it was impossible to catch up. I just kept getting further and further behind the rest of the kids in my class and the stuff they were learning. It continued like this all the way through high school —and then they handed me a diploma and congratulated me. I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ What were they talking about? I was lacking so much learning that it has affected my whole life. Still does now. I went to (community college) and they told me I wasn’t up to par to take the classes I wanted to enroll in. So I had to take a bunch more remediation classes, and I’m still not done. It’s like I’ll never catch up.”
I told my driver that I would share his story and use it to further fuel our work to help schools become places where the variability in the way students learn is not considered cause for limiting their access to the curriculum. Instead, schools will be places where we use our collective intelligence to ensure all students are insiders, and none are outsiders, making this man’s story obsolete.
Linda is on staff at the SWIFT Center as a member of the State Education Agency (SEA) Facilitator Team and the Capacity and Sustainability Team. Her passion is supporting educators’ in a positive relational approach to systems change, leadership effectiveness, and personal/team conflict competence. She’s the mother of two wonderful young adults and an avid (seasonal) bicyclist along Chicago’s lakefront.