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Empathetic Exercise




If you are a teacher, chances are you have had a kid make fun of 'special education' students in class. Chances are you have had this happen on multiple occasions. It breaks my heart that humans can be so mean, but I think a majority of them are simply spouting off connotations created and manipulated by the media, society, and parents.


So, one day in class, I decided to do something. I created an empathetic exercise.


A lot of special education students have mental rewiring that causes a change in how their brain processes information. Some of this rewiring makes processes slower and more cumbersome. I liken it to trying to get to the closest major city to where you live. You can get there via the interstate; you can ALSO get there via bumpy backroads. However, one of those routes is dramatically faster. I see the interstate as the way the normal brain processes information, where I see the bumpy roads as the way some special education brains process information.


There is one major thing we can gain from seeing how the brain works using this metaphor. BOTH cars will get to the same place.


I teach high school, and I wanted to give my kids an exercise in compassion and education. So, like I said earlier, I created an empathetic exercise.


Here is what happened...


I told my freshman we were going to create a story where we went around the room and each person added a sentence to the story (we were covering narrative writing at the time). So, one student would start the story, then the next person would create the next line...then the next student would create the next line, and so on... We did this out loud, and every student was random (meaning I did not go in any specific order because I didn't want them to 'prep' their sentence...)


The first story went fairly well. Everyone was able to create their sentence fairly quickly, and they said it was an interesting assignment.


Then, I flipped the tables...(metaphorically speaking of course lol). I told them we were going to do the same thing, but this time when I called on you, I would tell you what letters you COULD NOT use in your sentence...


The first person could not use the letters E and R...The second could not use I and N... I told them they had 10 seconds to create their sentence to add to the story... I went around the room like I did the previous time (random so they could not 'prep').


The longer it took them, the more I pushed them... COME ON! HURRY! WHAT IS TAKING YOU SO LONG?


Some of my kids got F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.E.D... with themselves and with me. Why was I pushing them? Why was I being rude? A few of them told me to 'just give them a minute to figure it out!'


When we finished, we had a discussion. I told them a lot of special education students have 'brain rewiring'...sometimes, this rewiring forces their thoughts to take the 'back roads' and thus sometimes takes a little longer for them to process the information. I told them that is why I chose certain letters they could not use for their sentences...I ALSO told them I pushed them to come up with answers quickly because that is how a lot of them have treated special education students in the past...


I asked them how it made them feel. It got quiet. They didn't like it. I asked them how it made them feel to have someone yell at them for something they could not control. They didn't like it. I told them that while this 'process' happened to you just once, a LOT of kids deal with this EVERY.SINGLE.MINUTE.OF.EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.


I told them "I just want you to be aware that not everybody is the same, but it doesn't mean that everyone is not equal or intelligent....Be kind, help others, and give them time to process their thoughts."


I hope my little exercise helped create a little empathy; I think the world could use a little more of that.





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