“If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. Now that’s logic.” Tweedle Dee, Alice in Wonderland.
Starting an inclusive education program at a school that segregates students from their non-disabled peers has felt a bit like being lost down the rabbit hole.
Trying to find my role in this new world of education with little support from the staff has my head spinning. How do I maintain the ideals and beliefs that drove me to be a special education teacher 18 years ago while adapting to a new, under-supported model?
I’m no longer in charge of my own classroom full of kids. I no longer invest my precious class time in team-building and/or character-building activities. I no longer spend more than an hour at a time with any one group of kids. Worst of all, I no longer teach.
I love to teach. I love finding new ways to teach kids who learn differently. I love challenging and inspiring students to keep trying, and I love celebrating student success no matter the size.
I miss teaching.
When I collaborate with other special education colleagues, they report being targets of negative comments from the general education teachers. They are the uninvited guests into the classrooms they now invade each day with their “special” kids. I am scolded daily by at least one teacher whose class I push into. Sometimes it’s for something simple, like providing a visual to support a student. Other times it’s for helping students teachers feel are lazy. Diagnosed learning disabilities are neither understood nor acknowledged. No matter the reason, valid or not, the scolding is always sarcastic, insulting, and belittling.
Including students with disabilities in classes with their typically developing peers has ignited a fit of deep-seated anger in many general education teachers towards special education teachers and students. An imaginary wall has been built between us. Without adequate support and training for all stakeholders, it’s hard to create buy-in and a sense of togetherness among all staff and students.
After hearing how terrible inclusion is from general education teachers, I can’t help but wonder if these professionals have taken any time to read the research on inclusion. I feel they must not have; if they had, surely they would not claim to know better, would they? After all, the research speaks for itself.
According to SWIFT Schools, “The research is clear, inclusive education is the ultimate win-win situation. Thirty years of research shows when all students are learning together (including those with the most extensive needs) AND are given the appropriate instruction and supports, ALL students can participate, learn and excel within grade-level general education curriculum, build meaningful social relationships, achieve positive behavioral outcomes, and graduate from high school, college and beyond.”
I finally realized I’ve been going about this all wrong. I’ve tried pushing in only to meet resistance and resentment. I’ve been called a highly paid glorified aide. I’ve been yelled at for decisions I had no part in. I’ve been given the cold shoulder for merely having a positive attitude about inclusion.
It finally dawned on me that my goals need to shift along with the paradigm of teaching kids of all abilities. Now I must learn to provide support for general education teachers and coach them to be proficient at scaffolding and applying accommodations when appropriate. My overall goal has morphed into helping teachers genuinely understand and recognize the outstanding abilities exhibited by our kids with disabilities.
Instead of spending time “co-teaching” with someone who doesn’t want to co-teach with me, I need to be more of a coach or a resource. Teaching has become the smallest part of my role. Instead, I am challenged with finding a way to scaffold curriculum, offering ideas for differentiation, implementing accommodations, data tracking, and troubleshooting challenging behaviors. I need to spend time observing the students so I can target their deficits with appropriate scaffolds, accommodations, and well-planned interventions.
My loftiest goal is to instill a sense of flexibility in the structure of the general education classrooms, regarding curriculum, modes of delivery, and assessment. I hope that teachers will be proactive in seeking out strategies in multiple modalities.
As educators, we need to move away from high-stakes testing and closer to the ideas of measuring progress, targeting challenge areas, remediating and pushing every student to proficiency and beyond at an appropriate pace for each individual.
We need to utilize Universal Design for Learning practices to teach in multiple modalities to a spectrum of cognitive and social/emotional levels, incorporating things like peer coaching, personalized learning, and other multi-faceted teaching techniques and delivery styles.
In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland, “And if those children are unresponsive, maybe you can’t teach them yet, but you can love them today, maybe you can teach them tomorrow.”