The Self-Advocate


Not a question. Not a whine. A declarative beginning.

“Yes, E?” I responded, “What’s goin’ on?”

Pause. And then a launch into a string of words full of accented pauses and almost-nervous hand gestures as one of the handful eighth-grade boys who is taller than me leaned forward and made his pitch.

This wasn’t our first conversation as we stood waiting for our respective buses in the gathering dark of late November. E is in one of my classes and, because I’m the only one on the 8th grade team who speaks Spanish (such as it is), I’m the primary contact to his family.

E has trouble with schoolwork. He hasn’t been learning English for very long because his family moved from Puerto Rico recently and he has a minor learning disability which, when combined with various meds for physical health problems, slow down his cognition. He has to translate everything I say into English and then get his brain, foggier because of meds, to compute it. When his mom told me about this, in the worried voice of a mother concerned about her baby boy, I took it all in — having a mom reveal the details of an IEP in Spanish over the phone within the first five minutes of your first conversation is kind of a lot. In the course of teaching E (or at least trying to teach him; I remain skeptical that I’ve succeeded in teaching my students much of anything, though I’m working on quieting that voice), I’ve noticed those symptoms manifest themselves in his work. It is clear that he can do the work but it takes him longer. Which he is hyper aware of.

“So, Ms….I just I just need more time. Because….like…I need to write the essay but I need to…Ms. I need to think about it.”

“Yes, you do.” Deliberate pause for computation time. “How can I help?”

We hatched a plan for me to talk to his other teacher about slowing down and giving him more think time. But we struck a deal — he would need to hold up his end of the bargain by buckling down and not getting distracted.

“Ok. Bye, Ms…see you tomorrow.”

And then I stood waiting for my bus going over the conversation in my head. E had the confidence to approach me and fill me in on precisely what he needed in order to be successful in the classroom. He could pinpoint what he needed and, though haltingly, fill me in. Which left me feeling really confident in him. There are eighth graders who are more than ready for high school and eighth graders who are NOT ready for high school. And then there are eighth graders who don’t seem like they would be ready for high school but secretly are. E, if he can maintain that self-advocacy he demonstrated at the bus station, will be fine. No teacher can resist helping a student who can explain exactly what they need.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. phil angeline says:

    Kids learn at different rates, so give him the extra time. Make sure he’s not embarrassed by this. In return, he owes you a solid effort and good behavior. Hold him to it.


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