One experience from my elementary school years that has influenced my beliefs as an educator is that teachers would regularly point out to my parents that my writing was very untidy and oftentimes terribly smudged. In kindergarten they had even considered failing me because my skills in the use of scissors was not meeting expectations. For someone who likes school and eventually did well, I clearly did not have a marvelous start.
The interesting thing is that all of these alleged shortcomings had a very straightforward explanation and an even simpler solution. I was, and still am, left-handed. Thankfully, I was born after left-handed people were forced to convert handedness. When using scissors I was using a tool designed for right-handers. When writing, I not only had to work on developing the necessary level of hand dexterity, but I also had to slowly learn to adjust the way in which I positioned my hand so that it would not slide over what I had just written. And to top it all up, I was sat to the right of a right-hander so our elbows kept colliding, leading to random lines coming out of my letters. I suppose nobody, except my parents, had taken the time to notice that I was left-handed, let alone think of how to adapt the learning environment to my skills and needs.
What was the solution? Well, I was moved to the left of the right-hander so my letters no longer had lines shooting in different directions caused by our elbows colliding as we wrote. And eventually, I learned to place my hand in way that it would not run over the text as I wrote. I am not sure what the solution was for the use of scissors, other than that I managed to learn how to use those designed for right-handers. Fortunately, nowadays these basic implements include designs with symmetrical handles for either left or right hand use or even reversed blades that allow left-handers to see the lines they are cutting!
As absurd is it may sound, one of my biggest fears as I embark in this new path is how I will manage to write legibly and at a reasonable speed on the board using my left hand. I must admit that when it comes to handwriting I am still fully left-handed, but I have become a decent right-hander when writing on boards. I have not resolved this arguably shallow matter yet, but I am hoping that eventually I will come up with a good solution.
As teachers we need to take the time to observe our students carefully, so that we can identify their needs, their skills, their dreams and fears and their challenges, rather than rushing to conclusions about their shortcomings and limitations.