Teaching (in any sort of capacity) takes a lot of energy. The colleagues that I respect the most are the ones who not only assess their students’ learning but also reflect on their own teaching. All of this self-reflecting, planning, evaluating, changing course, tweaking, rearranging and implementation takes its toll on the teacher…so at the end of the day (the school day) we all hope that what we are doing is “working”.
As I have said in my previous posts (The Self-Contained Life: #001, #002, and #003) the marriage of my ideals and what I am actually able to accomplish is not as close as I want them to be. But I think it is important to still set my sights high…otherwise I am in danger of doing exactly what can happen with our students. We have low expectations, so the teacher and the student get by with what is minimally required.
I would like to tell you specifically how inclusive education plays out in my neck of the woods. I understand this is my story and my perspective but I trust that seeing how it works through my eyes will provide some insight into what I am trying to do.
A GLORIOUS START
My initial goal for this year was to start the day with absolutely NOBODY in my room. HOW did you plan on doing this you ask? Well…at the beginning of the year, I had enough support staff to have all of my students start the day in a “homeroom” of sorts. Four grade levels…all starting the day with their peers…and it was a beautiful thing. It lasted for about three weeks.
AHA! See…inclusion doesn’t work. Well…on the contrary…allotments don’t work. Allotments are the number of teachers and support staff that any particular school can have based on enrollment, the classification of students with disabilities, and the numbers of service time based on their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It is a formula that I can’t sufficiently explain. The reality of the matter is that when the “student count day” happens near the end of August (for our school district anyways) there is a reshuffling. This meant that our school staff lost a couple of paraprofessional positions. Which in turn meant that for the students that were being supported in general education…inclusion time had to be cut. The only student’s time that was not cut, was the student that is fully included in 3rd grade with a one-on-one paraprofessional. The difference lies in that his inclusion in general education was integrated in his IEP. Something that I am going to have to do going forward is make sure that any time spent in an inclusion setting is put into an IEP so that is not just “something nice” we do for the student.
So yes…for about three weeks, ALL my students were going to AT LEAST one general education segment each day. And it was working…as best as you can expect running to and fro, classroom to classroom. I am sure my paraprofessionals were not as excited as I was. It was a feverish pace and looking back…it was probably a good thing that it was scaled back. The only reason I say that, is because of the slower pace…I am more prepared to handle things when they do go wrong.
And…they do go wrong.
So back to the drawing board. I had to rearrange my complete schedule.
I would like to take this moment to say how much I appreciate my paraprofessionals. I have high expectations for my students as well as my paraprofessionals and they consistently work their “you know whats” off. I have the hardest working paras this side of the Mississippi and I can’t do much without them. I am extraordinarily blessed…and I know that not everyone is as fortunate.
I think the best way for you to visualize what goes on is for me to write out our schedule.
- The students come off the bus, with paraprofessionals pushing wheelchairs or giving assistance to those who need it
- Unpacking routines, breakfast for some, bathroom routines, setting up for the day
- I am usually running around touching base with the office and general education teachers about what is going on for the day
- Morning announcements (via closed circuit TV)
- My 3rd grader goes down to his 3rd grade classroom with his one-on-one paraprofessional
- Morning group (usually focused on calendar skills, math skills, and literacy skills)
- My 5th grader heads to Specials (enrichment classes – Music, Art, PE and Computer Lab) which he attends with his same age peers
- After morning group, snack/breakfast for other students (eating skills)
- Language Arts/Literacy Group or 1:1 time
- Speech Language Pathologists come in twice a week for a group lesson
- Library on Tuesdays
- Bathroom routines in preparation for my 4th graders to attend Specials
- My 4th graders go out to Specials
- This is the part of the day that I am by myself with my kiddos.
- I usually try to do some sort of Math group activity or 1:1 time
- Other therapists will come in during this time as well (Occupational or Physical)
- Bathroom routines and prep for lunch
- Kindergarten Specials
- We have and Adapted PE person come to the room for our Kindergartner. As of now…we have not been able to keep her in the gymnasium with her crying. We are working on a solution but in the meantime she is still getting PE in our room. (This is a perfect example where my ideals and reality are not meshing BUT the purpose is that we will eventually transition her back into the PE classroom).
- Recess (inside and outside)
- This is our reverse inclusion time.
- So far I have 3rd, 4th and 5th graders coming up during the week at this time to either do a group lesson or do some sort of activity with our kiddos.
- We have done activities relating to the civil war, physical and chemical changes, erosion, reader’s theatre, making a craft, and creating a song (among other things)
- This is one of the most rewarding times of the day!
- This is also when our 2nd graders will go to a general education segment usually related to science or social studies. They split time during the week…so not every one goes every day.
- Sometimes we will be finishing up with a general education class or just simply finishing anything we had not completed during the day.
- Clean up, final bathroom routines and send off on the bus