where wildly different is perfectly normal
Teaching Atypical Kids
Teaching Atypical Kids

Teaching Atypical Kids

When I was in high school I had a great science teacher who introduced me to the books of Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). I was hooked, in a “I’m never going to be a scientist but dang this is cool” way.

(As an aside, everyone should have a science teacher like this guy. My senior year I wasn’t required to take a science class, but eagerly signed up for “Anatomy and Physiology” so I could take another class with him. He made science fun. He also made the class go on a field trip to a cadaver lab, but that’s a story for a different day. I haven’t looked at lunchmeat the same again. You’re welcome.)

In grad school I took a music class titled “Music and the Brain.” Loved learning how the brain processed and responded to music.

As a flutist and teacher I devoured information on how the brain learned and what might interfere and how to work with and around that.

Sensing a theme here?

Learning about the brain has always enthralled me. How does it learn? What hinders that? Why? When I taught middle school band I remember working with a beginning clarinet player, copying his music onto various colors of paper to help him see the music more clearly. This was years before I had A in vision therapy, putting different color plastic filters over print to help him see the words more clearly.

Teaching private flute lessons I loved figuring out how a kid learned and adjusting my teaching to help her succeed. Admittedly, I was not always successful. Looking back, I really want to apologize to a few students, ones I recognize in retrospect as highly gifted or twice-exceptional. I didn’t know, and I didn’t know that I didn’t know. But as a general rule I differentiated my teaching for each student as a private teacher, and did my best when in front of a group of 30-50 kids (no, seriously, my classes were that large).

Today it hit me that this is the reason why I’m kinda gritchy about A’s school situation. Well, two reasons. I know every kid learns differently (some more so than others); it doesn’t appear that this is widely acknowledged or accepted. And…I know I could do a better job differentiating for him than the school is doing right now.

Disclaimer: Teachers are doing the best they can with what they have, which isn’t much, and are the collective scapegoats for education as a whole. They will be blamed when kids spout that pizza is a vegetable.

That said, I’m still pissy about it.

I know differentiation can be done for each kid. I also know it’s a tough comparison; I was teaching band or flute lessons and classroom teachers are forced to kowtow to state testing and Adequate Yearly Progress. But don’t you think test scores would go up if the kids were taught with their learning style in mind?

I also realized today that I kinda miss teaching. Flute lessons, that is…scarecrows will be playing ice hockey in hell before I return to a classroom. I miss the challenge and thrill of finding the best way for a kid to learn something new, and then seeing her get it. Yes, that will certainly happen if A transfers to the SchoolHouse of Chaos, but I kinda miss the flute part too.

I just wish teachers were allowed the time and freedom to do that for their students.


  1. I have a family of divergent learners and it has always been so frustrating that 90% of teaching in public education is really geared towards about 10% of the kids that are auditory learners that sit quietly and do great with rote memorization. Don’t get me started on standardized testing.

  2. What I don’t understand is why the research seems to say that class size doesn’t make a difference. I am a sub and I have had (regular classroom) classes as small as 12 students and as large as 37 students. It certainly DOES make a difference to me. You can allow a certain amount of movement and chaos in a class of 12 students – accommodating those who need different learning opportunities. You CAN’T allow this in a class of 37, as it soon descends into bedlam.

    The current mantra is differentiation, but, as a sub, I just don’t see that happening in classes of 37. It is possible in classes with fewer than 20.

Whaddya think?

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