An Apology Letter to My Former Students With Exceptional Needs

Dear Former Students with Exceptional Needs,

It has been a while since I was your teacher, but there has been something weighing heavy on me that I wanted to tell you, and it’s that I am sorry. When I was your teacher, there were many things about you I didn’t understand.

When you kept getting out of your seat during a test, and I took away your recess, I didn’t realize what that did to you. I didn’t understand that your little body needed to move and that it actually helped you learn. I took away something that you NEEDED to be successful.

I didn’t understand that a side effect of your medication meant you weren’t hungry at lunchtime, but by the afternoon, you were starving. No wonder you had difficulty concentrating. I wish I would have let you have an afternoon snack.

When you didn’t turn in your homework, and you got a zero, no wonder you just gave up. I didn’t realize that by the time you got home, you had forgotten the directions. I should have written them down for you or emailed the directions to your parents. I wish my expectations for you fit what would have helped you be successful.

I didn’t understand that when I talked to you, and you wouldn’t look at me, you were still listening. I thought you would miss something important if you were staring down at your desk. I didn’t realize that for you, sometimes making eye contact was distracting.

When I told you to try harder, I didn’t know you were already trying as hard as you could. I saw the frustration on your face, and I should have recognized it.

I didn’t realize that I was giving you too many directions at one time to follow. While you were trying to remember the first, you forgot the second. I should have helped you remember by writing them down for you or only giving you one at a time.

When you were leaning back in your chair, and I scolded you, I didn’t know that it helped you pay attention. Rocking grounded you. Asking you to stop meant you had to focus all of your attention on NOT moving, which cause you even more difficulty learning.

If I could go back in time to when you were my student, I would ask you this, “How can I help you?” Together we would have worked on finding out what that was for you rather than me deciding what I thought that was.

I had so many of you as students over the years that I didn’t fully understand. You had differently wired brains and additional needs that I didn’t know how to fill.

It wasn’t until I had a son like you that I finally recognized (and appreciated) your exceptional needs. I hope he has teachers that understand him in ways I didn’t understand you.

Each time I advocate for my son, I am reminded of you. I may not have realized it at the time, but being your teacher helped me become a better parent to him. For that, I thank you.

I can’t go back and fix my mistakes as your teacher, but I can make you a promise. From now on, I will work my hardest to see that children like you get what they need to be successful. I will educate others that children with exceptional needs will do well when they can, and when they can’t, it is up to us as adults to set them up for success in the unique ways they need.

Thank you for all that YOU taught ME. Even though what I learned may have been too late to help you, every family I can help from this point forward, will be in your honor.


Your Former Teacher

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.