Over the last sixteen years in the education field, I have learned a lot about the limitations that students, specifically special education students, put upon themselves. As a Master Teacher of Special Education, I have had the privilege to work with several school buildings in addition to various classroom settings, teachers, and students.
I have often observed that the bar is usually set lower because of learned helplessness or that students have just lost confidence in themselves because of their status in special education.
As students came into my room in the past, it was almost like a culture shock. The students were unsure what to do as there was accountability, class work, independent work, and assessments that mirrored the general education assessments, and the list is exhaustive, to be honest. Modifications and accommodations still were an active component of the learning environment and when implementing the grade level curriculum, we would adjust accordingly. However, the opposition from the students was significant as they reminded me, “it’s too hard, I do not get it, we are special ed, etc.” I can run an exhaustive list.
Many students come from rough backgrounds, their home life is less than ideal, their support system is poor, and their confidence is nearly gone. Unfortunately, that is not enough to allow them to have a low bar to hit, and day after day, the mark to hit remains the same, and as a class, we continue to fall shorter and shorter. Eventually, although it takes time, a student hits a goal that is one they did not think they could hit. Their perspective changes; you can see a shift in their thought process, an understanding that their identity is not in their label of special education or their surrounding circumstances but the classroom; it is in them as a person. I wish I could say that each student came to have these moments throughout my teaching career. Still, I can say that those students who came through my classroom left reading at a higher reading level, less dependent on modifications, and stronger in knowing who they were as a student. More importantly, they understood that being a special education student and having outside circumstances did not have to limit their ability to do great things in the future.
When reflecting on this, I never thought about how many times I and maybe you have done this as an adult when it comes to the work of the Kingdom. The Lord spoke to me as I went through the book of Judges.
In the scripture, we see two great examples of how the Lord used men with what we may see as “limitations” to deliver them. First in Judges 3:15-16 : Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. By him the children of Israel sent tribute to Eglon king of Moab. 16 Now Ehud made himself a dagger (it was double-edged and a cubit in length) and fastened it under his clothes on his right thigh. We can see here from the scripture that God chose a man that was a Benjamite known for being ambidextrous; however, in Ehud’s case, he is detailed as being left-handed, which would indicate that the right hand is most likely lame. The Lord decided to specifically use this man, with his physical conditions at hand, as his strength to get the blade into the meeting and as his tool to deliver the fatal strike to Eglon, which would eventually lead to their deliverance and rest for eighty years.
Now we come to Jephthah in Judges 11, and the scripture shows us that in Judges 11:1-3, the conditions of his home life were anything but ideal. Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him. The conditions of Jephthah’s home life, such as the loss of his dad and the family’s betrayal, were not a reason to not answer the call that was placed upon him.
There are examples over and over throughout the Bible where God uses individuals who are limited in ability, background, and strength, yet He qualifies them for the task. As I read through these books, I often pondered how much I hinder my ability to further the Kingdom or have prevented myself from answering the call of the Lord because of my “disabilities or circumstances in life.” Do I often listen to the whispers of who people think I am or tell me what I can or cannot be? Have I bought into the lie that I am just not prepared enough to do the work of the ministry I am called to do? What disability label have we placed upon ourselves throughout life that hinders us from answering the call and being available for the work God has called us to do? It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we are called to do the work in, not the deficits we may see in ourselves.
So, are you ready to answer the call, or have you created a limitation in your abilities?