113. The Mercury Syndrome

Sometimes, children with special needs show up in schools, and administrators scramble to find ways to meet these children’s needs. One child speaks only Portugese, or Khmer. Another has severe emotional problems. Another has no home, and her/his behavior and skill level may have consequently suffered. We are a culture rich in diversity, but sometimes the stresses that come with diversity don’t leave us feeling rich at all.
The schools are filled with professionals who have spent lots of energy learning how to meet children’s needs. There are the ones most people are used to – the classroom teachers. Most people have had classroom teachers. They’re the ones who taught us to read. We may have seen children go out of the room to spend time with other teachers. We may have gone out of the room ourselves. But the classroom teacher seemed like the “real” teacher.
In most schools (all schools in Wellesley), there are specialists who have studied various techniques for helping children with special needs. Sometimes they work in their own rooms, and sometimes they consult, plan, and co-teach with classroom teachers. They contribute valuable insights, and often make the impossible seem likely.
But there is a problem which I will call “The Mercury Syndrome.” Mercury was one of the Roman gods. When all the god-jobs were handed out, Venus got love, Mars got war, but what did Mercury get? Mercury was the ancient equivalent of an LD teacher. Sure, he was supposed to be the messenger god, but who knew how many messages there were to be delivered? So Mercury started accumulating other jobs. He became the god of lots of other things, some of which didn’t seem to have anything to do with each other. I’ll bet there were times when Mercury’s desk was cluttered with messages (probably including some important ones) that Mercury intended to deliver when he got around to it.
It’s easier to have a nebulous, multi-faceted job when you’re immortal, and perhaps omniscient and/or omnipotent. But teachers of children with special needs aren’t. They’re
actually pretty much like you and me. So when a new child comes to school with needs that weren’t expected, the LD teacher is not necessarily the person who should work with that child. I hope some day education becomes such a high priority that there is a well-funded network of experts to meet children’s needs, and teachers who have special expertise are then free to use it.

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