When she was in high school, she was put into an Honors English class. The teacher was a young woman who had very high standards. At the beginning of the school year, we gave each of my daughter’s teachers a two-page article on how to work with students who had Asperger’s.
Toward the middle of the school year, we got a message from this teacher that our daughter was failing her class. I went to see the teacher and was told that she was not meeting the teacher’s standards. When I asked about those standards, I saw that they focused on abilities that were not present in people with Asperger’s syndrome. When I explained this to the teacher, she told me that those were her standards and if my daughter could not meet them, she would fail the class.
I called a meeting with the school principal, the head of the English Department, the guidance counselor, and the teacher. After the teacher explained her position to everyone, I asked her to listen to a story about two speakers I had recently heard at a conference and to give a grade to each of the speakers’ performances. She agreed.
“The first speaker,” I told her, “was very animated. He walked around the stage, used a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions to emphasize points. He used his voice, varying volume and inflection to hold the interest of the audience. His presentation was very well organized. He used humor appropriately.
“What grade would you give a speaker like that?” I asked her.
“Sound like an A to me,” she said, and I agreed.
“The second speaker,” I told her, “was almost the complete opposite of the first. He came out on stage and stayed rooted to one spot. There was not movement, no arm gestures, no change in facial expressions. His voice was a monotone varying neither in volume, which was very soft, not in intonation. He sometimes had to stop in the middle of a phrase to take a breath, and sometimes his voice trailed off at the end of a sentence so you could barely hear him. What grade would you give this speaker?” I asked the teacher.
“Sounds like an F,” she replied.
“The first speaker,” I told the teacher and the others in the meeting,” was Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. The second speaker was the late Christopher Reeve, a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.”
“So?” the teacher commented. “You asked me to grade them on their speaking ability – not on whether they were good people. I stand by my grades.”
As teachers and trainers, as parents, and as human beings, I believe that we need to recognize that people have different abilities and that every person should be viewed as a unique individual with strengths and weaknesses. And, when we can, we should adapt our teaching methods and our evaluations to take into account individual differences.
By the way, my daughter’s teacher left the school at the end of the school year and another teacher reevaluated my daughter’s grade based on the work that she had done and submitted to the teacher.