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BY Melissa

Progress & Special Education: What some people don’t understand

A young girl with curly brown hair and a beaming smile looked up at me and handed me this letter:

Der     mis

fre       I      So        LiKe    TO.   

WerK       Wef.


And automatically my stress of the day was erased and I was reminded yet again how good it is to have my job. I was filled with love and pride.

I eagerly took the note home to my husband who looked at the note and was baffled. I had to translate it like it was in a foreign language. Clearly, it was a sweet note that read:

“Dear Mrs. Ferry,

I so like to work with you.”

“What grade is this student in?” My husband quizzically asked. As I replied, “third” I knew what my husband was thinking. He was thinking I had my work cut out for me. He didn’t see what I saw.

When I was handed this note, this is what I noticed:

Yes! She got all her sight words correct (i.e. like, you)

Finally! After months of practice, she now understands all words need to include a vowel!

Woo-hoo! We are making progress – at least she is trying to include punctuation marks in her writing.

Would this writing be considered “passable” for third grade? Absolutely not. And sadly, most people do not view a failing grade as showing progress.

Do they really understand Special Education?

And does the media or politicians understand how hard our children work or do they just see the test scores? Can someone walk into our school system and tell a teacher they are ineffective because a third grader isn’t writing a well developed, mechanically sound, seven sentence paragraph? Will they ever know how much progress was made from the beginning of the year when a student struggled to put pencil to paper just to produce their name and now they are writing a full thought while following basic principles of phonics?

It is easy to judge. It is easy to label and criticize.

However, through the eyes of a teacher, we see hope. We see progress. We see effort.

We have to give our children a chance and we have to believe in their abilities. We should continue to set the bar high and then push our student’s to reach that bar; genuinely believing they can do it. We should recognize and celebrate improvement – even if that means they raised their score from a 12% to 49%.


Written on May 24, 2012 by:

Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor's degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master's Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.
  • Sarah at Easyread

    Thanks for the article. It’s so true that every bit of progress must be praised and encouraged. Work well done should never go unnoticed, especially with a special needs child who may already have low confidence. We’ve been thinking about the same things here:

  • Mkopp98857

    Absolutely right!  Some students may never achieve the score they are looking for on Standardized test, but if that student is making progress each year.  Then they and their teacher should be proud.

  • Cheryl

    I agree!  We go through this same thing with my 1st grader.  While his score on written work may be lower than that of his peers, it is slowly going up and we celebrate any and all progress!  Certainly something both student and teacher can be proud of 🙂

  • Ansley Jessieraye

    I struggle with this everyday with both my boys. I sometimes get caught up in the school requirements. When really it should be about the individual and there own improvements. My oldest is very good in school. He struggles withe the classes that are not challenging or are no interesting to him. Yet he excels in the others. My youngest is special needs. He has made slow and steady progress from the beginning. How many people can say. They lived outside the womb for 83 days. In my book that is the biggest goal (grade) he will ever have. Anything else is a cake walk. Kids learn at there own pace not what the government considers average. Keep open mind and they will grow at there own pace

  • MomCasMI

    I could read that note…no problem 🙂 . When my boys started to write in 1st grade they rarely used spaces and spelled most things phoenetically and they didn’t have learning disabilities. Bless you, Melissa. 

  • Laura Bibeau

    Thank You!! It is teachers like you that make this difficult journey bearable.  Every decision we make is gut wrenching, especially when it comes to what should we do for school.  I have all sorts of things said to me from “these kids will never go to college”  to “the parents of these kids don’t do anything to help them” and many others.  And this was at the public shcools from the special ed teacher!  So, when you get a teacher that believes in your child and is willing to see past the “standard” it makes everything seem right.  Every child has a pupose and the teacher that can help unlock that for them is a special teacher indeed.  Again, Thanks

  • Jdearhamer

    If only we could duplicate that mindset for all teachers! I often hear how things will keep getting harder for my daughter (2nd grade, general Ed., Down Syndrome) instead of how great she’s doing (reading at a 1st grade level, writing sentences and adding double digits). Their attitude can cause me to loose focus on all the achievements.  But I also can not help but to think “the system” as a whole is the cause of the problem.  Why do “they” think ALL children should learn ALL the same information at the same rate?  These are children…humans (not robots)… ALL DIFFERENT.  

  • Fred Thornhill

    I can attest that it it teachers like you who make the difference in the lives of so many children.  To a child thar is having difficulty is so satisfying to teachers like you who appreciate the effort the child made to get to that point but it seems to be “no big thing” to the uninformed.


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