Susan MarksI made a decision to go into teaching students with severe disabilities when I noticed that they were being denied opportunities to learn because many educators viewed them as “unteachable.” I was intrigued by the challenge, and in my early years of teaching, I focused heavily on mastering the most effective techniques for teaching. However, as my students gained skills, I began to realize that I was teaching based on an assumption that the most important thing was to make a student with disabilities more like her peers who did not have disabilities. In other words, I was attempting to “fix” the students I was teaching. I was forgetting the person — the person whose life was not going to be any better because he could identify coins or the letters in his name. I learned about what Michael Giangreco refers to as “valued life outcomes.” These are the outcomes that are needed to live a life of quality. This awareness led me to realize that although skills are important, they are not everything.

Teaching based on valued life outcomes means examining the whole experience of education: how one is taught, how one is perceived, who one interacts with, where one is taught, and why one is taught. Now, I teach what I have learned to preservice teachers, because I hope they will know these things sooner than I did. I want them to know that it is important to teach skills, but it is also important to teach a student to discover his own voice, to make important decisions, and to have meaningful interactions within his community. And, to do this well, we need to “fix” the places in which students with disabilities learn. That is often what is broken,

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