Dear Teachers of the United States,
Hi, my name is Reo Kobayashi. I am 20 and live with cerebral palsy, which only affects my physical ability. I hope my story will help you treat students with physical disabilities appropriately in the classroom. You might not agree with everything I write, but it’s based purely on my experience.
I was born in Tokyo, but moved to California in 2006 to start my formal education. In first grade, my teachers pulled me out of class to give me specialized instruction in English and math.
This is my first tip: Do not remove a student from class for specialized instruction if you can accommodate them in the classroom. Specialized instruction should be given outside of the classroom, but only when it’s necessary. I missed out on time with my peers and learning when I was pulled out of the classroom.
Second, never imply a student cannot do something. When you place a student into a specialized instruction environment, you automatically make them think they are not smart enough. That’s when my self-doubt started. It can stay in our hearts forever, even if we can’t articulate our feelings. That is the one thing that remains with me to this day.
When I was in fourth grade, teachers tried to put me in a special education classroom full time. We had to change school districts in middle school when they tried to do this.
We eventually found the perfect high school for me, USC Hybrid High School. It was the first time I was told I could do anything. I realized I had many emotional scars from previous experiences that held me back. My high school teachers graciously helped me overcome those barriers, so that during my senior year, I was bold enough to apply to my dream school, the University of Southern California (USC), to study journalism. I proved all the people who told me I wouldn’t get a high school diploma or go to college wrong.
Third, never underestimate the power and intellect of your students. We do not know the full potential of any human being, regardless of a physical or developmental disability. I’m not bashing special education, because I truly believe that in some situations, the only way to educate a student is in a separate classroom. But we need to determine a student’s intellect before we assume they can’t learn the regular way. I fundamentally believe everybody can be taught. It is up to the educators to figure out the best way to teach them. I’m neither a teacher nor a parent. I’m just a young man with a physical disability whose intellect has been questioned many times and who has been doubted many times, through no fault of my own.
My fourth point: If you receive a special education student, especially one with only a physical disability, you need to think outside the box. Your responsibility is to teach them. Start from a place of compassion, and understand that we want to be treated like everyone else and can be productive members of society. Do not judge people because traditional methods might not work with them, as they did not work for me. You must fight for the student. If you don’t give that student a chance and make them feel like a part of something bigger than themselves, it’s difficult to do them justice.
It has taken me years to find my voice in society, although I am a member of, and ambassador for, many organizations, such as United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County. When I got into USC, I had to deal with the emotional scars from feeling like I didn’t belong in primary school. My high school teachers and staff helped me get over my self-doubt in the best way they knew. But I’m just now starting to heal from those wounds. I’m still learning to find my worth and value.
The best advice I can give to any teacher is to not pull someone out of the classroom and make them feel they aren’t good enough. It disadvantages them greatly in their life and it limits their potential as human beings. These are my opinions, based on my own personal experiences.
Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.