On Golden Amber

My first year of teaching served as my first exposure to many things – including students with learning disabilities (LD).

I recall a discussion with a staff member who assisted LD students at one of the other buildings when she told me these students are very capable of college, but they just have a learning handicap. Being fresh out of college, my mindset was probably very stereotypical, so I took in the information while actually doubting the statement’s validity.

Several years later, a new LD teacher started working with my students. She worked very hard for them – and they were having success. Because they were in the general class, I’m sure I retained the stereotype.

As the school grew, staffing increased – including LD – and that is when I met Bette. Somewhere along the way, I had an LD student in my college prep class. I admit having a mindset that she was misplaced, and primarily there due to the advocacy of her proactive mother. The end of the school year was odd as I felt the proactive Mom used me in her bout with the school administration. On graduation night, proactive mother told me I was a good teacher – but I only accepted her compliment in words, but not in my mind and heart.

Fast forward a few years as our department changed the science curriculum to have no tracking – that is, no differentiation between college prep and general students for at least 3 years, so classes would have students with a variety of academic skills and abilities. Enter Bette as she was to work with the LD students in my classes.

Because I had more than a few of Bette’s students, she was in my classroom one or two periods a day. We developed a few alternative strategies and she always kept me well-informed. Through Bette, and my willingness to adapt, I was beginning to learn about what LD really meant.

Amber was a freshman and an LD student – simply a very nice young person who academically struggled. She, and much because of Bette’s work, she passed the course with Cs and Ds. Amber was in my class again as a senior – a biology class with many college prep students. Bette kept me informed, but she was not involved on a daily basis as she was three years prior.

A major test was approaching and Bette told me that Amber knew her material very well. By this time, I truly understand that Amber’s LD was writing – and that she would struggle answering essay questions. Simply put, as her mind sprinted, her fingers crawled – thus words that came from her pen took directions that were unrelated to the question asked.

I decided to test her orally – not just by asking her the questions orally, but in a conversation. Bette approved, Amber agreed, and wow – she delivered answers full of substance.

I recall Amber getting an A on that test, and I believe she earned an A for the last quarter because I finally understood what it meant to be LD. The last time I saw her, she was working in a pizza place, but that was more than 10 years ago.

I doubt if she ever went to any post-high school education. To be honest, I’m not even sure how much success she had in the work world. Nevertheless, for me, Amber is golden because she taught me a powerful lesson – one that took me over 20 years to learn – thus I finally understand that what that LD teacher told me during my first year. Because of Amber and Bette, I finally understood and trusted the role of the staff member assisting LD students, thus I worked as closely as possible with them for that time forward.

As for Bette, we continued to have a positive work relationship, and then she retired. She may read this with a smile – and, she knows that I wonder about what if I would have done something different with the one student having the proactive mother.