By Guest Blogger Adrian Greene, Special Education Teacher, Randolph County Schools, NC
At the start of a new school year, parents understandably have some worries. ‘Did I remember to buy all of the right school supplies?’, ‘Will my child make new friends?’, ‘What if the homework is too hard for them?’ are likely among dozens more. Especially for parents of middle and high-schoolers, the beginning of a new school year is as daunting as it is exciting. Students in grades 6 through 12, are embarking on a 180-day journey of the newest research-based academic programs and practices provided by the teachers entrusted to them, while at the same time, learning about themselves and their place in friendships and social groups.
After 11 years of middle school meet-the-teacher night, I still never tire of seeing those excited faces of students, somewhat shy, dressed to the nines, while doing their best to look like they know exactly where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. The parents, on the other hand, are the ones looking frazzled, confused and scared. It’s quite the role-reversal from elementary school! When parents finally do find the right teacher, they are most often relieved that we are not very intimidating after all. But in some situations, even in upper grades, there are two of us teachers to meet and get to know. It’s still not as scary as it sounds- I promise- In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, public schools have become a major focus of ensuring that students with special learning needs have equal access to education. I have heard many adults remark that ‘kids like that’ used to be in special classrooms, hidden away from the ‘normal’ kids. Today, the practice of inclusion, where the student is “a participating member of the general education classroom” is used widely across grades 6-12 in North Carolina. Students with identified special needs are provided with Individualized Education Plans, as well as accommodations and modifications which level the playing field for equal access to the material being taught in the classroom. Another important facet of the inclusion process is the presence of a special education teacher in the classroom, working alongside the regular classroom teacher. The role of the special education teacher in inclusion is NOT that of a ‘teacher’s aide’ or ‘helper’, but to serve as a second, highly-qualified teacher who will ensure that students with special learning needs are getting what they require in order to be successful in the classroom.
Some parents may feel that there is a stigma attached to their child for being in an inclusion class, especially if their child does not have special needs. Consider that in order for inclusion to be what it should be, and not a separate classroom for students with special needs, there must also be an inclusion of students who do not require special education services. Having two certified teachers in your child’s classroom can actually be an extremely rewarding experience. There are two sets of eyes on the classroom, which can thwart disruptive behavior and increase time spent on the task of learning. There are also two different adult personalities, which can strengthen the bond between student and teacher, which is vital for learning to take place. The regular classroom teacher might struggle with a student who forgets to bring a pencil to class, but the special education teacher chooses not to fight the battle and provides a pencil each day. Conversely, the special education teacher may not be particularly adept at handling an inquisitive child who fires off a barrage of questions, but the regular classroom teacher may be able to focus more on this student, because the special education teacher can work around the room to assist the other students without slowing the pace of the class.
So if, as a parent, you find yourself learning at meet-the-teacher night, or after the year has begun, that your child has two teachers in math or language arts this year, for the first time, or the third or fourth year in a row, consider it a blessing for your child, instead of another worry to add to your already-full plate. Your child will learn priceless skills from the inclusion experience, such as learning how to work with other children of all ability levels, how to navigate different adult personalities, and most importantly, how to function as adults in our society (which, yes, will be happening before you know it), where we all have different abilities, different paces of learning and working, and different gifts we can contribute.