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School days, school days...why I love my son's non-inclusive classroom

Posted Feb 25 2012 10:05pm
Today’s post was going to be about why I think inclusive classrooms are a bad idea for many kids with ADHD or other brain-based disabilities that impact behavior, learning, development, and social skills. If we reached the ideal of the inclusive classroom, yes, it would be a great thing, but so many of today’s traditional classrooms are so far from the ideal it’s laughable. Teachers are trying to manage more and more kids in the classroom, forced to spend much of their time prepping for standardized tests, and full inclusion of children without proper support (because that’s what’s going on - in addition to putting all of this on the classroom teacher they’re also losing support through cuts to teacher’s assistants, reading teachers, art + music + P.E.) is a recipe for disaster.

But that’s not what I’m going to write about today. For giving that subject any justice I’d have to do a lot of research. I want to get my facts right. 15 years working in schools over the past 22 years will not suffice. The fact that our local public schools failed my special needs child AND my gifted child in inclusive classrooms is not enough. I want facts and figures on my side because I know this will be a hot-button issue. People whose children are closer to “normal” than not don’t want their children singled out and treated differently. I get it. But I still think that many children are seriously harmed in a system that says inclusion is a good idea, but doesn’t give it the resources it needs to really succeed. How a classroom teacher is supposed to have 25 -30 kids in her classroom, 5 with ADHD, 2 with autism, 6 or 8 with some kind of learning disability (and not the same one, oh no - a couple who have dysgraphia, a couple with dyslexia, a couple with dyscalcula and a couple more who are teetering on the edge). 2 more probably have FASD, which make them serious behavior problems, 2 or 3 have mental illnesses, 2 have a serious physical disability, 5 are ESL students, 3 are in foster care, and a couple are being abused at home. Oh, and don’t forget the 4 or 5 gifted kids. Oh, and the kids living in poverty. And none of these kids probably have one or the other “label.” They overlap.

Really, how is a happy inclusive classroom supposed to happen in that situation? I can’t see how one person can do more than just teach to the middle and hopefully maintain some peace. Maybe if the teacher had 12 kids in her class. But she doesn’t.

The argument is that kids with special needs need to be mixed in with all the non-special needs kids because one day they will be adults in a society that doesn’t care if they have special needs. So they should learn to suck it up now. Because really, that's what happens when you grow up and join the world of work. We only work with people our exact same age, and it doesn't matter your interest and skills and work habits, we're all thrown in together. There's no differentiation in the real world. Um, right. Oh, and the non-special needs kids should learn to tolerate differences in the world and to be kind and accepting, even if it means that half the day needs to be spent dealing with one child’s behavior problems (this happened in my younger son’s 1st grade). And even if another child finishes his work in 10 minutes and it takes everyone else 60 (this happened every single day in my older son’s 5th and 6th grade classrooms). And oh, everyone better score at or above grade level on that standardized test, no matter what their IQ or developmental age or learning disability…or else. Or else what? The school is failing? The teacher should get less pay? Seriously?

Here is a great article that sums up the pros and cons of the inclusive classroom.

Anyway, I’m not going to write about that. No, what I’m going to write about today is why I am in love with my son’s new school, a teeny tiny private school that helps kids with special needs like his improve their behavior, gain social skills, improve academics, and move them along developmentally. I believe they’re able to do all of this precisely because they are not an inclusive school. They are a school specifically for kids like him.

Here’s what they do:

-->Everyone is taught at their level. Age is not the determining factor in grouping, ability is. So a child whose reading is at a 1st grade level but who is 12 is not in the same reading class as a 12 year old whose reading level is at a 12th grade level. Same with math. Same with social studies and art and science. Same with SOCIAL SKILLS.

-->Feedback on behavior occurs often (every 15 minutes) and is not JUST about academics. It includes “being kind” and “positive participation.” If a child doesn’t meet those goals, he or she can turn it around swiftly. And if the goals are met for the day, that day there’s a reward. If the goals are not met, the next day is a new day. If something serious happens, the child is not shuffled off to an administrator who only has a scribbled behavior referral for reference. No, the child, with the help of the teacher, fills out a behavior map in his or her own words, including brainstorming ways to deal with the problem better next time.

-->All consequences are natural. Yesterday, for example, when J refused to do his math and another child in the class whipped through it, the other child was allowed free time. J was not. (And they actually checked to see IF J had completed his work. Sounds crazy, but in his previous elementary school they actually took his word for it. I know my kid. You can’t take his word for it!)

-->Communication with the parents is paramount. We get daily e-mails from the director summarizing the day, and if there is a serious problem, a phone call or email when it happens. And not a phone call complaining about our children and assuming it is somehow our fault what our child did at school - but a head’s up. This is what happened.

-->They have social skills groups.

-->They have 1-1 reading tutoring by people trained in helping kids with reading disabilities,

-->His math class has 5 kids.

-->They are very structured and routine.

-->They have movement every single day.

-->There are no grades.

-->There are no standardized tests.

-->My first parent-teacher conference was over an hour long and it included every teacher in the school. And it was not combative nor was it a list of what J. was doing wrong nor did I feel rushed or did I have test scored thrown at me and I felt like everyone heard me when I spoke. I felt like they were on my side. This hasn’t happened with J since kindergarten.

-->They recognize that overstimulation, sensory integration dysfunction, and anxiety are real things that can impact learning. Imagine that.

Imagine any of this. Would this be a good place for your child? Do you think any of this can be accomplished in today’s traditional classroom?

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of . She and her editing partner are currently seeking submissions for the next 2 books in the series: Easy to Love but Hard to Teach, and Easy to Love but Hard to Treat.

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