things that leave scars

How disabled kids learn to be suspicious of optimistic teachers

This happens a lot in school:

  • A disabled kid goes to school.
  • A teacher is initially friendly and optimistic.
  • The teacher expects that their teaching will make the kid’s disability irrelevant.
  • Eventually it becomes clear that the kid’s disability is going to stay important.
  • Then the teacher gets frustrated, gives up, or stops being nice.
  • Sometimes this is overt and sometimes it’s subtle; it’s always hurtful.

A lot of kids go through this over and over during childhood. And, it often persists into adulthood and becomes a lifelong thing. It hurts. It does damage. And it means that people with disabilities are often suspicious of immediate kindly optimistic affect, and may take a long time to trust that you won’t reject them for being disabled.

If you’re teaching, be careful not to come in with the expectation that your teaching will erase disability or render it irrelevant. It won’t. Instead, start with the expectation that disability will matter and that you will be teaching students with disabilities. Disability acceptance is a key emotional skill for effective teaching. If you think around disability, it’s nearly impossible to apply any creativity to accommodating it. If you’re willing to face disability head on, it’s often possible to find good ways to adapt teaching so that a student can learn.