One of the stressful things about the start of school for most families is the worry over what the new teacher will be like. Particularly if your child with special needs is scheduled to be in an inclusion class -- something you may have fought for -- there's bound to be a worry that the regular-education teacher won't be trained in or temperamentally in-tune with techniques for teaching all learners.
I thought of that teacher-fear when I read a nasty comment on one of my older posts about inclusion and the personnel-related pitfalls it can encounter, from someone using the name truthgiver:
"am a teacher and I freaking HATE inclusion classes. The reality is that some disabled students are able to function and move with the class pace. Having said that, every single time the class is rolling along and in the midst of learning, putting their all into a challenge or enjoying a QA session, there is an inclusion student who drags the entire class back to their knees with a 'I don't understand'. Usually because they were not paying attention or CANT understand. Face reality and quit being politically correct and 'pretty'. A student with an IQ of 68 in a room where the average IQ is 98 is a burden. A lump of coal can experience growth and become a super lump of coal but face it -- a 68 IQ will never be able to meet a state standard that requires students to 'compare and analyze the economic, political and social impact of interaction between societies and the ramifications as well as benefits of that interaction on modern society.' Seriously!! Really!!! Get real. Call it what it is -- a pipe dream that LOOKS good politically."
I'll admit, that comment made me see red, not the least because I can very well imagine my daughter having been stuck in a room for a full wasted and uncomfortable year with a teacher who considered her to be no better and maybe a little worse than a lump of coal, and whose greatest ambition for her was that she would keep her mouth shut and her hand down so the teacher could go off on flights of learning with the kids who were smart enough to keep up or savvy enough to know that this is a teacher who doesn't want to hear that you don't understand.
I have had my doubts about inclusion over the years, because I'm not sure how we ever can protect our kids from teachers like this, and from schools and districts who are not fully and enthusiastically with the program. After years in the safer confines of self-contained, my son finally had some inclusion experiences in high school, and they were good ones, with teachers who seemed to enjoy what he brought to the classroom. Who knows -- maybe they were really snarking in the teacher's lounge and commenting on blog posts about what a bother he was. My heart is heavy imagining anybody who works with children doing that, but oh my goodness, I know they're out there, in droves.
Nicole Eredics, who writes at The Inclusive Class and has some experience teaching inclusive classes in Canada, responded to truthgiver's comment with the kind of upbeat attitude and informed take on the ways that inclusion can work that we hope to see in our kids' teachers. I'm heartened by Nicole's advice to truthgiver that:
"the true concept and implementation of 'inclusion' is far different than your scathing description. The successful inclusion of students with special needs requires the support of Special Education staff, teacher training in differentiating instruction and an understanding of the behaviors and characteristics of children with special needs. When done correctly, the inclusion of students with special needs in the regular class creates an enriching, tolerant and respectful environment for all."
Nicole and I have been doing an online radio show about inclusion for almost a year, and we've had on lots of guests who share the same certainty that inclusion is something doable and desirable, and not a pipe dream at all. I've acted as the curmudgeon more often than not, noting all the truthgiver-type teachers out there and lamenting that many schools have done nothing to either weed them out or give them the tools they need to enthusiastically reach all learners -- the gifted ones and the challenged ones and the ones in between who've just been keeping their heads and their hands down in hopes of quietly passing.
The post truthgiver was responding to was written three school years ago, and talked about the need for a transition from the type of teacher who would compare kids, any kids, to lumps of coal, to ones educated -- like a friend of mine who recently got her master's degree in special education -- to expect inclusion as simply the way it is. Sure wish I could believe we were farther along in that changeover, but it appears that in too many schools, and with too many truthgivers, we're not quite there yet. Makes me glad my kids are in college now, where if you have the misfortune of getting stuck with a teacher who thinks you don't belong, you can drop the class or hold on for just the few months 'til it's over.
How are your kids doing with their new teachers this year? How are your schools doing with inclusion? Share in the comments here; talk back to truthgiver on my earlier post on inclusion (see comment 11); write about what you think is necessary to make inclusion work; and if you've found a teacher or a school that really gets it, give a shout out and some well-deserved praise on the Readers Respond page for good school experiences.