My first experience teaching a special education class was not as positive as I had hoped.
I was given eight students and I thought the class would be individualized, collaborative, and progressive. What an eye opener that turned out to be!
The reality was that these eight students were not well-mannered. Working with them was very difficult so about half way through the class, I stopped trying to give instruction and decided to just talk to them about their experience in the special education program.
Here are some of the things I heard: “As long as we work half the period with good behavior, we are allowed the last part of the class to do whatever we want.” “We get candy for problems that we get correct.” “If we promise to be good, we can just play games.”
Now, I know students are not always truthful about what happens, but I believed these students to be credible. So this was the question I asked: “Do you behave differently in regular classrooms then you do when you are here in this pod of classrooms?”
Without exception, students said they did. At that very moment I gathered the students and moved them to my regular classroom where I taught math. Separating them was simply not working. The following year, my district adopted the inclusion model.
For the past eight years I have taught an inclusive 7th grade science class. Some of the changes I have seen in students are powerful—and not always academic.
Some of the growth happens because these students have to work collaboratively with other kids. If you walked into my room, you would not be able to tell which students are special education, and which are regular education. They are expected to work through the curriculum like every other student, and because the learning is scaffolded and specific, they are expected to perform.
One of my proudest moments came when a professor at Eastern Washington University came to my class to look at an inquiry lesson we had created. She asked Adam, a student who would have previously been put in special education, a few college-level questions.
Adam was able to answer them within seconds! She then had a discussion with Adam about how he was gifted in science and from that moment on, he was sold on science.
Adam, like every other student, deserves a chance to shine.
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