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Woman with No Mirrors

Margaret Boggs, a middle-school special education resource teacher, enjoys collaborating with her students' general education teachers. Wayne, one of her more challenging students, is having particular problems with one of his teachers, Doris Walker, who is demanding that Wayne be taken out of her classroom and moved to a more restrictive setting. Margaret, in an attempt to advocate on Wayne’s behalf, finds herself at odds with Doris.


Most of the time Margaret Boggs thinks she has a wonderful job as a special education resource teacher at Weschler Middle School. Weschler is a large school, with approximately 1,500 students in a low-to-middle class, large, and diverse urban district. The teachers and administration at Weschler have worked hard to provide a quality education for all students and, as part of this effort, teachers have many opportunities for staff development. Margaret has taken advantage of these opportunities by participating in a number of classes offered through the school district as well as the local university. Through these efforts, she has acquired credentials in elementary education, middle-school education, and special education with an emphasis in learning disabilities. This past summer she took a course in collaboration at the local university that was very stimulating and helpful and, for the most part, Margaret has been successful in using the strategies that she learned.

Margaret’s students come to her for one or more periods, depending upon their needs. The remainder of their day is spent in general education classrooms, and Margaret collaborates with their teachers about accommodations and adaptations that might help them learn more successfully. Margaret believes that her collaboration with her colleagues is benefiting most of her students, and she enjoys the collegiality that has developed. There is, however, one teacher with whom Margaret has difficulty, and she has spent many hours mulling over how best to respond to this teacher.

Problems between Margaret and Doris Walker surfaced in response to Wayne, a bright 7th grade student who has many troubling problems. He has difficulty getting started on tasks, focusing on his work, and sitting still. He distracts and bothers his neighbors when he shuffles his papers, fidgets, and talks under his breath. On several occasions he has made inappropriate sexual comments to girls, which upset both the girls and his teachers. He also writes anti-government slogans on his notebooks, which disturbs his teachers and the administration so much that they have begun talking about placing him in a more restrictive program. Margaret is not convinced that Wayne knows what he is saying. She believes he is an immature child who lacks social skills and does not know how to engage his peers in appropriate social interactions. His mother is concerned and conscientious about following through with requests from school. Wayne always has his homework and Margaret is encouraged by his concern for getting good grades and his desire to please.

In her work with Wayne, Margaret helps him organize himself, focusing on determining important versus less important issues in his work. In her opinion, he can do his work when he is interested, and although he is easily distracted, he responds to encouragement. She has also been trying to teach Wayne to advocate for himself by going to his teachers and asking them to accommodate his needs. For example, Margaret encourages him to ask for copies of overheads used during lecture classes and to talk to his teachers about the problems he is having. Wayne, however, seems incapable of taking steps to improve his behavior even though he is embarrassed and upset about the consequences. Margaret once asked his mother if anyone had ever suggested that medication might help Wayne stay focused. His mother acknowledges that medication has been suggested in the past but she continues to resist because she fears it will stunt his growth and lead to drug addiction.

When the talk about moving Wayne to a more restrictive setting first started, Margaret began meeting with his teachers. She shared her thoughts about why he behaves as he does and her observations about what types of interventions seem to help him succeed. For example, she reported that standing next to Wayne when giving directions and helping him get started on his work were effective methods for reducing his off-task behavior. Additionally, she noted that checking on his progress frequently and not waiting for problems to escalate enabled her to praise him for appropriate behavior, rather than nag him about his inappropriate actions. With the exception of Doris, all of his teachers have begun reporting improvements in his behavior. Doris, however, is adamant that Wayne’s problems are too serious for her class.

Margaret suspects that the problem lies more with Doris than with Wayne. Realizing that Doris is a respected teacher at Weschler, Margaret made an effort to learn more about her. For several weeks she stopped by her class, trying to make friendly overtures. What she saw, however, caused her to ponder why people describe Doris as an excellent teacher. In Margaret’s opinion, Doris behaves in the classroom like a woman without mirrors: quick to judge and condemn everyone but herself.

"She expects her students to know a lot of material, but does not teach them the content. Her directions are confusing and given orally most of the time. And when she does teach, her lessons are hard to follow, moving from one topic to another without transitions," Margaret thought to herself as she reviewed her observation of Doris’s class. Her lectures were spattered with vague references that seemed to confuse rather than clarify the material. In addition, she had favorites within the class who could do no wrong, but Wayne was clearly not one of them. Doris placed him in front of the room near her desk because she thought it would help him pay attention. However, his fidgeting and paper shuffling while she is teaching irritates her. Margaret thinks Doris makes a much bigger deal of the behaviors than she should.  She is worried that if other teachers hear her complain about Wayne, they could also be convinced that he does not belong in this school.

In thinking about her relationship with Doris, Margaret acknowledges that their initial encounters were problematic. In a meeting shortly after they met, Doris referred to Margaret as an assistant. Although Margaret quickly responded that she was a teacher, she has harbored feelings of anger and resentment toward Doris for the slight ever since. Margaret feels that Doris does not view her as an equal, but as a glorified aide or an assistant who helps out in the classroom. Margaret also thinks it is difficult to collaborate with Doris because she denies having any part in a child’s failure to succeed in her class, deflects comments that are intended to involve her in solving the problem, and continues to act in the same way.

Feeling that she needed to get things on a more positive note, Margaret set up a conference to discuss ways to help Wayne be more successful. Anticipating that Doris might be unyielding, Margaret thought about how she should respond if Doris continued to insist that there be no excuses for anyone. "If kids are not organized and responsible, they will be punished," Doris was known to remark frequently.

With some trepidation, Margaret started the meeting by saying, "I'm concerned about Wayne and want to be sure that we create a support system that will enable us to keep him in general education classes."

"If that is the most appropriate place for him. I’m not convinced that it is," Doris replied.

Margaret chose not to respond to Doris’s remark and instead continued, "I'm really concerned about how we are dealing with Wayne in the classroom. I know he's having a lot of problems lately and specifically I’ve noticed that he has a difficult time following your directions. Could we talk about other ways to handle him?"

Doris replied, "Of course we have to be concerned about him. We should call a conference with all of his teachers to discuss our options." Then she began shuffling papers on her desk, indicating that she had had enough of this conversation.

Margaret's stomach tightened and she could feel herself getting flushed. She did not want the meeting to end like this. A conference with all the other teachers could result in Wayne's being chastised and moved out of the school. Feeling quite helpless in responding to Doris, Margaret thought to herself, "What should I do now? How can I get things on a more positive note?"


Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

  1. Why do you think Margaret believes that Wayne can be successful in general education classes?
  2. List some evidence that Margaret could present to Doris to help convince her that Wayne can be successful in her class.
  3. Discuss different options that Margaret might consider in seeking a more supportive environment for Wayne. What are the implications of each option?
  4. Discuss specific features of instruction that help Wayne succeed in the classroom.
  5. What features of Doris’s instruction style do you think are problematic for Wayne?
  6. Why does Margaret fear that a meeting with all of Wayne’s teachers will result in his removal from the school?
  7. What procedures would have to be followed before Wayne’s school and/or classroom placement could be changed?
  8. Do you think a change in placement would be appropriate for Wayne? If so, why? If not, why?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Methods for monitoring student progress.

Demands of various learning environments (e.g., individualized instructions in general education classes).

Diversity and dynamics of families, schools, and communities as related to effective instruction for individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Techniques for modifying instructional methods and materials.


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