254. Classroom Modifications

Chapter 766 is a good law in Massachusetts. It requires teachers to pay attention to the fact that children learn in different ways, and that some children have great difficulty learning if their special needs are ignored. The first thing teachers are required to do is try some classroom modifications to see whether slight changes in normal arrangements will solve learning problems the teacher has noticed. Examples of this are providing study carels to help distractible children, explaining directions to one child privately, or providing worksheets that are different from the ones other children do.
For many teachers, classroom modifications are happening all the time. They recognize children’s diverse learning styles, and they are committed to doing what works, rather than giving every child the same lessons and letting them sink or swim. For some of these teachers, the documentation required by Chapter 766 makes it easier to focus on the appropriateness and effectiveness of modifications. For others, it’s just more forms to fill out; these teachers focus well on children with special needs, and more paperwork just gets in the way.
I like to think that I fell in the last category – that I always considered children’s various needs, and made appropriate modifications. That filling out the forms, though necessary to make sure some teachers weren’t thoughtless and negligent, was really unnecessary in my case. But in fact, the procedure did force me to focus on children at times when I might otherwise have forgotten to. In fact, if there were more hours in a day, it would be useful for every teacher to document all the strategies they try for helping all the children they teach, and keep records of which strategies help which children.
I started each year determined to keep those records. Usually by the end of the first week, I came up with a modification for myself: because Bob, unlike the ideal teacher in his mind, is a human being who has limitations, he will stop driving himself crazy trying to keep track of everything that happens.
The job of educating a class of children in the best way possible is, in fact, impossible. Occasionally, teachers have sublime moments when it feels as if a lesson has really worked for every child. This may not actually be true; there may be a child or two who has missed some of what the teacher thinks everyone has gotten. But even if those sublime moments do affect every child, they can’t happen all day every day.
And so, there’s a law requiring teachers to try a little harder sometimes. There aren’t so many meetings to schedule and forms to fill out about shy children, precocious children, and other children who, though they have special needs, don’t have “special needs.” Most teachers I’ve observed do try to keep all children’s needs in mind, and succeed to varying degrees. Chapter 766 recognizes that some children do require more attention than others, and though it often feels unnecessary and even oppressive, I’m glad it’s there.

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