Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 3 – 2020-21
From the AWSP Executive Director
Please Don’t Call On Me to Read
The Long-Term Impacts of Exclusion
Dr. Scott Seaman
Executive Director, AWSP
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Ensuring School Safety, Planning with Data, Aligning Curriculum, Improving Instruction, Managing Resources, Engaging Families, Closing the Gap
I can still remember with almost perfect clarity sitting out at a table in the common area of my first-grade classroom looking back at my classmates. They were all sitting in their desks in the classroom reading out loud together while I was “pulled out” for extra reading support. In other words, I couldn’t read like my classmates and therefore needed one-on-one attention. Not to age myself, but this particular elementary school was designed to be an open concept school. I could directly see and hear what was happening in my classroom, but I could also see and be seen by the other first-, second-, and third-grade classes. It was a wide-open view for me and them. They all sat in their regular seats with their Crayola comforts while I sat in a strange seat at a strange table with a stranger who was tasked with helping me sound out words. To this day, that memory is so vivid for me, but why? Why are the emotions of being “pulled out” for extra reading help so raw and so real even after so many years? As a first-grader, could I really feel shame and embarrassment for not being able to read like my classmates? Was being pulled out just the beginning of always feeling inadequate in school? The answer to those questions is yes, and the impacts of that exclusion carried long-term consequences. Confidence in school was ripped from me at an early age in my elementary school experience. A confidence I didn’t gain back until my second year of college. I labeled myself as “dumb” simply because I couldn’t read like my classmates. I put them on a pedestal and myself in a different category. I felt shame and embarrassment that I couldn’t read and being pulled into a public space for one-on-one assistance everyone could see didn’t help that shame. I don’t blame my wonderful elementary teachers, assistants, principal or school for the efforts they made to bring me up to grade-level in reading. They were doing what they thought was best. I also wonder what they could have done differently due to the constraints of the physical design of the building. Would I have suffered less embarrassment if I was taken to a private space for reading help? We’ll never know, but being “pulled out” wasn’t the only consequence. I spent my entire K-12 experience recovering from negative self-talk and lack of confidence in school. The shameful symbolic nature of walking back into the classroom after receiving special one-on-one attention (that everyone watched) was immediately and forever turned into fear. A fear of having to read out loud in class. A fear of my classmates laughing because I couldn’t pronounce words correctly. A fear that I wouldn’t sound as fluid and confident as the rest of them. Basically, a general fear of my teacher calling on me or anything that remotely looked like something where we’d have to read out loud. I lived in constant anxiety and fear. I carried that fear throughout high school, into college, and continue to feel anxiety when asked to read out loud in professional settings. As cliché as it might sound, I can honestly say I was scarred for life starting in the first grade. Scars that still haunt me to this day. But what could or should have been done differently? Perhaps inclusion instead of exclusion?
As cliché as it might sound, I can honestly say I was scarred for life starting in the first grade. Scars that still haunt me to this day. But what could or should have been done differently? Perhaps inclusion instead of exclusion?
The impacts of public exclusion resulted in a self-imposed label, lack of confidence, shame, embarrassment, fear, and anxiety that I carried throughout my learning journey. I also became an expert in covering my fear and anxiety with humor, disruptive behavior, and invitations to leave the classroom. All of which are powerful negative consequences of a well-intended reading intervention strategy. As I watch our system embrace conversations about inclusion, I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences as a learner and wonder what my path would have been like if I was somehow included during in-class reading instruction. Could my entire experience in school have been potentially different if the intervention strategies were built around inclusion versus exclusion? Would I have seen myself as an equal to my classmates instead of lesser than? I clearly made it or else you wouldn’t be reading this article. I made it despite a rough start and long, bumpy road. I think back on the teachers (and principals and assistant principals) who believed in me more than I believed in myself. I can see now their efforts to include me, encourage me, make accommodations for me, and most importantly, not accept my excuses or carefully crafted avoidance strategies (disruptive behavior). They saw something in me that I didn’t believe existed; a highly capable student who was at-hope versus at-risk. I’m hopeful that our educational system continues to move away from traditional approaches to learning. I’m hopeful that as we emerge from a pandemic we take the opportunity to redefine teaching and learning for each and every student in our system. I’m hopeful we will re-examine some of the barriers (like time) that have prevented creativity and much-needed systems changes. I’m hopeful about a new system built upon individualization and inclusion. At AWSP, we continue to push on the system in the name of educational reform. We are at the table in all discussions pertaining to the P-16 educational landscape. And as your executive director, I will continue to challenge the status quo and fight for the needs of each and every one of our students in the state.
Just don’t ask me to read out loud — it still makes me nervous.
Dr. Scott Seaman joined AWSP in the fall of 2013 after serving as the principal at Tumwater High School. In July 2018, he assumed duties as Executive Director.
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Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2020-21