As an educator, I have had the odd conflicting experience of, on the one hand, finding it a privilege to educate eager students who want to learn, and conversely, coming up against a resistance to change by the administrators. One such experience involved the discovery of a real learning issue for a freshman star-athlete, and the realization that addressing this need, might be harder than I thought.
It happened at my most recent role at a very prominent college where I was employed as a learning aide. My job was to teach college athletes as part of their requirement to stay in good grade-point standing. I worked alongside the sports department to monitor the learning of a specific case load of athletes. In full discretion, without naming the institution, I worked at a very prestigious university on the west coast. And, again, it was a privilege. This wasn't at all the feat of pulling-teeth to which I was accustomed. These kids were happy to be there and quite enthusiastic to be receiving additional help with their curriculum load, while excelling at sport.
Midway through my contract year, I was assigned one student, who was a star water polo player and a joy to teach. She could not have been more excited about the help I was offering. We worked together, particularly in writing, over the course of a semester. At some point, I was becoming concerned because the in-person classes and one-one-one resources with me, were not matching the grades she continued to present. She would show up so very heartbroken because we had worked diligently but then the paper or test results might be a C grade, at best. She was as flummoxed I was. I adjusted my schedule and added time to get her extra help as she was in jeopardy of losing her spot on the team. We dug in and worked harder. In my professional assessment, she understood everything very clearly but again, the grades were not matching. I instructed her to go her professor to discuss this apparent discrepancy in understanding versus test results. It did nothing. Her grades were slipping. Finally, one day she said something, quite insignificant really and I don't even recall exactly what it was, but I realized suddenly that she wasn't processing the information auditoraly.
Immediately I went to my supervisor who agreed that we needed go above the professor and schedule learning testing for the student to assess whether there was a learning disability in play. I broke the news to my student, thinking that she would be embarrassed. She was relieved. She was visibly relieved.
After testing, it was determined that she had a few learning differences with regards to auditory processing. I thought at the time, "Yay, problem solved. She will get the learning accommodations she needs to excel." But it was neither that easy, nor was it expedient. It took most of the semester to implement the testing accommodations and she continued to struggle. By the next quarter, when finally, these accommodations were in place, she brought all her grades up to a B.
I write this today, not merely out of a need to vent, but to illuminate the need for change. Learning differences and accommodations for testing, and the ability to put these in place when needed, should not be something that we see as a long, arduous process of red tape. First, it makes the student feel "other" and "singled out" - not a good thing for a young person. Second, while the administration is figuring it out, the student struggles. Third, all educators must be more vigilant when noticing a student who struggles and who is consistently asking why. It is our job to recognize that maybe something else is happening.
Now of course this isn't true at all schools. But what I learned is that she suffered because she was a freshman in college as opposed to a grade-schooler. Learning disability – it wasn't even a thought. The professor thought she was being lazy. The result is that she continued to flounder. But educators need to understand, it is not uncommon for a student to go undiagnosed all through school. Just because they have made it to college without learning differences having been diagnosed, does not mean that they don't exist. According to
According to The National Center for Learning Disabilities...
...many of the 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues are not formally identified with a disability. When these children receive the right interventions and informal supports, many can succeed in general education. Without enough support, however, children with unidentified disabilities may not reach their full potential and risk falling behind and having to repeat a grade. This could lead to other problems, including dislike of school, absenteeism and dropping out.
Let's do better. This was a girl of wealth and privilege, a top athlete at a top program, and she almost slipped through the cracks. I'd hate to think what might happen to a student at a local college with little or no access to such resources.