This semester I have my first student affiliated with the Office for Special Services for Students with Disabilities. I knew something was up when I assigned a four question introductory sheet that just asked students to explain why they were taking the class, what they hoped to get out of the course, what they thought the course might teach them, and if they had any additional questions or comments for me. He would write a word before loftily staring out the window for a minute or two; then write another word.
He was still working on it when the room cleared of students when our hour and fifteen was up; I thought maybe he was just waiting so we could talk. This was only kind of true. He did want to talk, but specifically he wanted to talk about why such a ‘simple’ (his own words) worksheet was taking him so long to complete. This student had incurred a traumatic brain injury in the last year leading him back to the starting line to relearn motor as well as cognitive skills. He couldn’t walk, speak, write, read, remember, et cetera in the initial aftermath of his injury. Over the last year he’d been having a lot of help getting his mind and body back and was now reading at an 8th grade level, but writing at a 3rd grade level. After he explained what he could, and I read the rest in the Faculty Notification Letter I realized why he had been working so slowly through the worksheet. He explained that, ‘a year ago something like this would have been easy for’ him, and now his ‘brain wouldn’t cooperate’. And I responded with a brutally honest answer that surprised me when it came out: ‘that sounds really frustrating’.
We discussed him recording the lectures, and getting notes from another student or myself in order to stay on top of the work, but I was worried. After handing him a syllabus only five minutes earlier, I mentioned that the readings and homework dates could be found there and he asked if he could have one. When we discussed that he did in fact have a copy, he explained his memory problems. He probably wouldn’t remember any of the conversation we had that morning, and that, ‘yes, a follow-up email would be greatly appreciated’.
When we departed I made it a point to reach out to the Office. I was feeling a little in over my head and in need of some guidance from experts. PLUS, I’m an adjunct. As it is I get paid very little for my time, and here was a specific student requiring a lot of extra time and attention and consideration. We also receive no training or professional development regarding how to manage your classroom when you have a student who needs special attention. It has been almost a week and I have yet to hear back from the office.
Following our second-class meeting, I asked the student to remain after class again just to make sure everything was set for the following week when classes would really pick up. I reiterated that I would get another student to take notes on his behalf, or I would give him a copy of mine, and that unless I heard back from the Office for Student Services, he would need to provide recording equipment of his own. I mentioned that he could find the required readings on the syllabus as well as one blackboard, and we had a merry-go-round conversation about his already having a syllabus, again.
The conversation went well; it seemed there was nothing more to do at that time but wait and see how it went. I was still feeling nervous as he walked toward the door, but just before he left, he turned quickly and with a hearty grin said, ‘thanks for caring’, before exiting the room for good. At that moment I realized at that the ‘feelings of nervousness and under-preparedness had been conjured by a more deep-seated fear of being useless to this student; of being unable to support him in his learning. In that moment I realized that my use and support for this student, and maybe, probably, definitely (?) my students in general, (always) stems more from my extension of care and support than any regurgitation of the readings and course material I could give them.
At any rate, I still have some serious concerns about this student. If anyone has any insight, tactics, ‘words of wisdom’, or has had any success with the Office for Special Services in terms of providing tangible support for students (maybe I need to make a visit to them?) please let me know! I would like to be as supportive of this student and his learning as my time, energy and knowledge will allow.
A million thank yous in advance !