WASHINGTON—A shocking report released by the U.S. Department of Education this week revealed that a growing number of the nation's educators struggle on a daily basis with some form of teaching disability.
The study, which surveyed 2,500 elementary and high school level instructors across the country, found that nearly one out of every five exhibited behaviors typically associated with a teaching impairment. Among them: trouble paying attention in school, lack of interest or motivation during class, and severe emotional issues.
"For teaching-disabled and at-risk educators, just coming to school every day is a challenge," said Dr. Robert Hughes, a behavioral psychologist and lead author of the study. "Even simple tasks, like remaining alert and engaged during lessons, can be a struggle. Unfortunately, unless we take immediate action, these under-performers will only continue to fall further behind."
"Our teachers are in trouble," Hughes continued. "Some can't even teach at a basic sixth-grade level."
As noted in the report, hundreds of schools have already begun setting up special classrooms in which the teaching- disabled can receive the extra attention they require, teach at their own unique pace, and be paired up with patient students who can help to keep them on track.
According to school administrators, new programs like these encourage marginalized and disenfranchised teachers by rewarding them for showing up to school prepared and taking an active part in classroom discussions. Many also have counselors on hand to intervene when an instructor grows frustrated or throws a tantrum and storms out of the room.
In the new "Teachers First!" program at Wesley Academy in Chicago, educators who were once labeled "lost causes" and left to flounder in the system for years on end are now diagnosed with specific teaching disorders, given extra time to grade difficult assignments, and, in the case of particularly troubled teachers, moved back a grade.
"We're much more sensitive now to the factors that influence their behavior: abusive home lives, drug and alcohol problems, or often, the fact that they never should have been put in regular classrooms to begin with," Wesley principal Donald Zicree said. "A lot of these poor men and women have been told they can't teach for so long that many start to believe it after a while."
"Rather than punishing our teachers or kicking them out, we give them a gold star every time they do something right," Zicree continued. "If they write the correct answer to a math problem on the board, they get a gold star. If they volunteer to read aloud during English class, they get a gold star. You'd be amazed what a little positive reinforcement can do. Some of our teachers† have even stopped drinking in their cars during lunch."
According to Zicree, school officials aren't the only ones excited by the difference the new programs are making. Many educators have also responded favorably, realizing that they no longer have to act out or create disruptions in order to get the attention they so desperately crave.
For a few, like Michael Sturges, a 10th-grade history teacher at Wagar High School in Council Grove, KS, being put in a special classroom has reawakened a love for teaching he hasn't felt in years.
"Now that I know I have a teaching disability I don't beat myself up so much when I have a bad day or can't grasp the material we're working with," said Sturges, 38, who has pinned a number of perfectly graded assignments up on his wall. "I used to think teaching and stuff was pretty lame, but now—I dunno—I guess it's all right. If anything, being in school now might help me to get a decent job when I'm older."
Added Sturges, "You know, something that pays more than $24,000 a year."