Reprinted from "Supported Education" issue of Visions Journal, 2003, No. 17, p. 18
Religious studies professor Patrick Gray had the ideal credentials to accept the challenge of a student with a psychiatric disability into his third-year course, which was already full. He is an experienced member of the clergy and grew up with a brother with disabling heart disease and another who is intellectually impaired. Still, he is a demanding teacher and was worried he didn’t have the proper training or knowledge to help this student.
Gray decided to meet this 30-something prospective student. Medication made the student impassive, but Gray suspected there was a good mind at work.
“I didn’t want to offer academic charity. I didn’t want to compromise him. I was really concerned that he could achieve what other students could achieve.”
Gray was also worried about how much extra time he could devote to this student. The class was very big. As it turned out, Gray spent about an hour each week going over tests to clarify and unravel meaning in the student’s sometimes rambling answers. “I had to give him additional opportunities to get across his mastery of the material in the same way you would allow a student with a learning disability to take an extra two hours to write an exam.” The meetings “took hard work” on the part of this instructor. The student earned a B+ on his mid-term and a final passing grade.
Gray says expanding classes and fewer resources make it harder and harder for professors to give any student individual attention. “Our job as teachers is to find and let fly that beautiful mind… That’s what you hope for everybody. … It takes an extra special effort. And someone has to be committed enough to do it, to go the extra mile.” Helping this particular student “was worth it and I’m very gratified that it was helpful to him.”
So is the family. According to his parents, being in Gray’s class was a positive experience that brought hope and new meaning to their son’s life. They report that he is doing better on his medication and his thoughts are more focused this year.
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Originally reprinted with permission in Visions Journal from the York University Gazette, April 17 2002; ‘Fighting the Stigma of Psychiatric Disabilities’