A woman I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last year or two via the internet commented on my recent post, " T'Ings ," and I thought I would take a moment to try and respond. I was going to c & p her comment here, but since it is long I am going to direct you to that post and read the comment by Zora. (I just don't want to scare people away from reading long posts because I know how that can go.)
First I want to thank Zora for taking the time to write. I also want to make it clear from the get-go that I am NOT an expert and I am learning as I go. That is probably obvious, but I just want to cover my ass. What I like (and don't like) so much about this inclusion leadership training series I am doing is that while we all know there needs to be a change, we don't yet know the answers. I want to be clear from the get-up-and-go that I do not blame teachers (general ed. or sp.ed.) as a rule. Yes, there are some teachers who are better than others, some who are amazing, and some who are downright lousy, but I think that is generally the rule in any profession.
I HAVE to believe, for my own peace of mind, in order to function in this world at all, that teachers, generally, want to be good at what they do. There's burnout, there's frustration, there's lack of education in certain areas, but I don't think anyone gets into teaching because they want to make it rich, or because they want the fame that goes with it! There are plenty of reasons to want to be a teacher, I've no doubt, I just don't think those two are on the top of the list. (Although, in my experience, there are teachers I have had growing up that while not famous, are certainly infamous!)
Time and again when we talk about inclusion at this advocacy training we talk about how there are many steps in the process. Fundamentally, I think the way we educate future teachers needs to change. It's unfair to teachers AND students that general ed. teachers are only required (I think) one class on special education. I think, what really needs to happen is that we need to redefine what it means to be an educator. There are a lot of things involved in that. And it's not solely about the teacher. Personally, if I am talking ideal world, I think we should teach all future teachers the same stuff. There can be specialty special ed. teachers who learn more specific...stuff...but I think across the board we should be educating our teachers to teach every child. I also think we need to implement Universal Design for Learning .
It should not be like reinventing the wheel every single time a teacher has a student with a specific learning style in their classroom. There should be a framework, a currciulum, assistance, a plan, already in place to help each learning style. Or, as the case may be, to allow physical access for every child.
I am not ignoring the fact that this takes money. The majority of the schools in the US are already built and I know it is not feasible to tear down and build anew in every case, but moving forward, and when retrofitting, we need to keep in mind all people.
Jumping around here as a result of...my brain being fried, frankly. But I want to say also, I am NOT a fan of the us v. them mentality that seems to be so popular with parents and teachers/administrators. As I said above, I believe we all have, in our case, Georgia's best interest in mind. I go into these meetings, the school year, our life, with this as my assumption. Just as I want people to presume competence in Georgia, I need to presume that these folks have good intentions.
Now, that said, I have found that not always to be the case. Already, in our brief jump into public education. But rather than blanket everybody as the enemy I, personally, instead try to address that one person directly. And I don't drag other people into that.
For instance, we did not have much consistency with our providers this school year. The teacher left half-way through after taking a lot of time off for health reasons, the OT left with nary a goodbye two weeks before school ended (and just prior to our IEP), and our SLP didn't return a single email and never once wrote in the communication book like I asked of her. Our PT, on the other hand, was amazing. She totally believed in Georgia and she pushed her (and us) so that now Georgia can walk independently up and down the stairs. (THIS IS HUGE.)
I am losing my train of thought--I have so many on the subject--but to put it simply. If we are ever to find ourselves sitting opposite our IEP team with a lawyer on our side? It will be because some MAJOR infraction occurred. Sadly, I cannot say it WON'T happen, but it will certainly be the LAST RESORT. To say the least.
To address the overcrowding of classrooms. To be sure, in the Baltimore area, this is nothing but the norm. This is, again, where the teachers need more support personell IN the classroom. Not only do they need guidance from the Sp.Ed. department, they need time to plan curriculums, time to meet with the sp.ed. team, and added hands. Pie in the sky? Some say yes. But I have to hope this is our goal. I agree, I don't think the onnous of educating each and every learned can be on the one teacher. I think it needs to eb a team. How to implement that? Other than time and money (and UDL so we are not always reinventing the wheel), I am not sure.
I think if we thought of our students who have IEPs more as people instead of a list of goals, we would be more successful.
I can't speak to whether or not Sp.Ed. teachers do after-school planning because I simply do not know. I assumed they did. I think they certainly should. That's all I can really say about it.
I fully and completely expect Georgia to fail a course if she does not do the work required. That said, I do think that work should be modified for different learning styles. I do not want Georgia to go to school to learn how to buy groceries, or make her bed, or mop a floor, or any of the other "life skills" classes they invent to keep kids like Georgia busy. I am her mother and I will teach her those things at home. Home Ec, ok, if the other kids are doing it, then great. Otherwise, thank you, but I would rather homeschool. I have no doubt there are plenty of teachers who will be releaved to hear me say that.
I think, and I owe this thought to my friend, Megan, that really...we need to redefine what it means to be successful. If that were remotely possible, then...and perhaps ONLY then...will we start on a path towards full inclusion. As far as the other students in the class, I agree, they have equal need and right to the teacher's time, but I think to often we forget that there is no REAL time limit. No limit to when or how much a person can learn. EXCEPT the arbitrary ones we, as a society, impose on our children. Now, certainly there are practical reasons for that. But the testing especially, oh it makes my blood boil.
While I say I want you to fail my child if she doesn't do the work, I also think that there are multiple kinds of "intelligence". I don't like standardized tests. And, I will be perfectly frank, in large part, my desire for Georgia to be included is entirely social. I do not want her to be thought of as a second class citizen. In large part--though not wholly--I could give a rat's ass about what is on her IEP. I don't know how that will be viewed, but it's my truth right now. I might change my mind.
I am going to quote directly from the comment here: "And I wonder so much...what about the other 33 students? If the one student takes 10% of my time in 1:1 time each day, is it fair to the other kids to split up that other time. Don't they have needs and deserve as much attention?"
This is something I worry a great deal about and agonize over regularly. In a very real way, I must say. You see, as part of my training we have self-advocates in the class. In this scenario, I AM the "other students." There is one man in particular who takes a lot of time processing when he speaks and as a result takes a lot of our time in the class. He has listening devices because he has auditory sensitivity and the devices themselves can be very distracting.
It is like a socialogy lesson in real life inclusion training. I tell you. I am not proud, but I am not a patient person. I get frustrated with this man, I get annoyed. I am only being honest. I fight the feelings so much. They make me feel terrible. They remind me of the times when I was growing up in school when the teacher would call on someone who was not a particularly good reader to read a paragraph. I remember feeling like I was going to leap out of my skin in frustration.
I admit it. I admit to feeling superior if I read the paragraph well, without any mistakes. ANd I hate myself a little bit for it.
But I also have to forgive myself. I think it's a natural response. I also think it is good to make other kids "go through" those experiences. That's life, frankly. What are you going to do?
In regards to time, however, I think this is where we need more support.
Again, out of curiousity, has anyone seen videos of "good" inclusion. You can make it work without it even seeming like an "issue". Granted, I think it is probably easier in elementary school. I am not sure, yet, how it works on the secondary level. I'd be interested if anyone has seen it work well.
I have a feeling that Anthroposophy might be the ticket. Anyone? Anyone?
There are so many more intuitive and creative ways to teach a child, so many more intuitive and creative ways to learn. We are talking humans, not cattle. It's baffling, really.
And finally, because I am running out of brain power...I want to thank Zora for writing, and would love any feedback from other people. These are not so much meant as "answers" as much as they are meant as fuel for a continuing conversation. Like I said, I don't KNOW the answers. Maybe that's what it's about though. Everyone keeps proposing answers instead of allowing children to be a part of their schools in the LRE first and foremost. (As federal law dictates, by the way...NOT that I am getting litigious! :)
One thing that some more experience moms have said to me, and it really sticks out for me, is that people are so afraid of teaching our children, they think they have so much more to learn, but really, it's not just them...it's the parents, too. We did not choose this path, but we were asked to take it. It's also the child. I think, in general, if we could approach education in a more holistic way, we'd see a lot more "results" and happier people. I mean, it's life we're all living. Don't we want it to be joyous? So many bars set up, so many credentials to meet.
A little too hippy dippy? A little too idealistic? Maybe. I can admit that.
But what IS the point, really? And why not include kids who couldn't make an honest 4.0 if their lives depended on it? Their lives, frankly, DO depend on inclusion. I honestly believe that.
Oh, one last thing. I don't want to be thought of as scary, but I can already tell that people think of me that way. In the IEP. Because I am not ignorant of the process. Because I ask for what is written in the law. But I don't want people to be afraid of stepping on my toes in ANY facet of life. I despise blatant dishonesty and I don't want to be patronized. I HATE when they pad Georgia's skills, when they make it sound like she is doing really well at something I KNOW she can't yet do. It's demeaning.
Lord, how I hope I can have honest dialogue with our teachers.
And I also promise to help in any way I can. I say that to G's teachers and therapists regularly. I have an open door policy!
I am hitting publish without reading this through. Like I said, quick and dirty. I will likely read it through later and find all sorts of redundancies or hypocritical things, not to mention grammar and spelling mistakes....but I want to thrust this birdie out of the nest.