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Tales from the Classroom: Students with Disabilities

Updated on August 7, 2009


Welcome to Tales from the Classroom: Students with Disabilities. I've been teaching at the college level for about 20 years. These stories are true; names have been changed because HubPages doesn't pay well enough to defend against lawsuits.


Location: A two-year community college in the Midwest United States.

Course: Introductory computer programming course (C++), meeting once a week from 6 PM to 10 PM for 10 weeks.

Tales from the Classroom
Tales from the Classroom


The first evening of class I walked into the room and noticed two guests standing in the rear of the room. Their body language told me they weren't students. They immediately approached me to introduce themselves and explain that I was "honored (their word) to have a hearing-impaired student in my class this term." I learned that they were employed by the college as translators.  As I lectured, one of them would stand in the front of the room, converting my words to sign language for the benefit of my student. Every 1/2 hour they would switch off. No problem for me. I welcomed them and we chatted a little before class began.

Lessons Learned

As the term progressed, I noticed that our hearing-impaired student consistently showed up for class at precisely 6:30, 1/2 hour late. The translators were prompt, arriving at 6:00 or earlier. I observed that my student had another interesting trait; he slept at his desk. At least, he sat with closed eyes. The translators continued their work, but it was evident to anyone paying attention that their work was fruitless.

During the 9th week of the 10 week term, I reviewed my gradebook and learned that the student had turned in no assignments whatsoever. The class was structured in such that a homework program was due every week. I had no record of any of his work. As a favor to him, I invited him out into the hallway. His translators accompanied us. I explained to him that he was destined to fail the class because he had demonstrated no competency and not met any of the requirements for submitting assignments. He seemed surprised but didn't put up too much of a fuss. A few minutes later he gathered his books and left the building. His translators also left.

A few minutes later he returned, without translators. He and I participated in a spirited exchange of handwritten notes. His main point was that as he was hearing-impaired, a minister, a business owner, and a father, he deserved special treatment. He used the phrase "special treatment." He wrote the phrase "special treatment." I declined his request.


The following week, the last week of the term, he arrived in class with about 1/2 of the first assignment (now 8 weeks late) completed. He explained that he didn't have time do anymore. I confirmed what I told him the previous week; he was going to fail the course. At this point he gathered up his translators and stormed up the stairs to the department offices. His plan was to locate an authority figure who would overrule my decision.

Please note that I was an adjunct instructor with no tenure. This could have ended very badly.


I don't know what happened 'upstairs' but I learned later that the student discussed his situation with the assistant dean of Humanities and Sciences. Unfortunately that dean was not sensitive to his situation. She suggested to him that he had two options; fail the course or ask me to sign a withdrawal form. Withdrawing from a course in the 10th week is highly irregular. He knew his odds were long. Nevertheless, he returned my classroom and presented me with a drop/add form, which I signed for him.

For several weeks thereafter I received email from him explaining to me what a jerk I was. Hopefully we both learned something.

When the dust settled, I was told by his translators that his strategy in every class was to show up 1/2 hour late. He knew that his translators were required to wait 30 minutes for him, after which they could go home.


The student was attitude-disabled.


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    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Hopefully this guy learned a lesson. It's just not right to demand that they don't have to follow the rules - special needs or not.