“The inclusion of children with disabilities in general preschool and child care programs is becoming more and more common. Parents, teachers, and researchers have found that children benefit in many ways from integrated programs that are designed to meet the needs of all children”
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One of our most important tasks as a special education teacher in a public school is to prepare and conduct an ARD (Acceptance, Dismissal, and Review) meeting. This is where all the crucial information about the student is discussed, approved, or rejected. The attendees are the parents, usually only the mother can be present, a representative for the district, the classroom teacher for that student, a teacher for the career chosen by the teen, and the folder teacher who prepares and presents the material. The ARD will receive the student in high school, follow his/her progress every year, and meet for the last step, graduation. Few parents really understand and take advantage of that meeting to make sure that their son or daughter is receiving all the benefits of special education, a sort of safety net for disabled children.
Dealing with Parents
It is therefore most important to clearly explain all facets of the program; sometimes parents will make impossible demands, as they fail to understand their child’s academic limitations. They may believe that college is the only option for a student who reads at the fourth grade level. They may ask for difficult classes that guarantee failure for the youngster and that he or she does not have to take. Indeed, in many cases, a special curriculum is established simply because the student cannot successfully follow the regular one. A common exigency by emotional parents of special education students is to give them a different classroom teacher because they simply don’t like the current one. They have also demanded a change in folder teacher (special education), the person charged with following the progress of the student and report regularly to the parents. I have witnessed female colleagues in tears after talking to a parent on the phone; some young special education teachers quit after a few months, unable to handle the enormous stress caused by some students and parents.
Not Just Anybody
It takes a special character to work in special education (pardon the pun), quite different from the teacher who faces a whole classroom of excited teens 5 or 6 times a day. Not only do we act as counselor, surrogate parent, confidant ( the art of keeping adolescent secrets), friend, and school supplies provider, but we also perform as “lawyers” when arguing with a regular teacher who failed to apply the modifications stated in the IEP (Individual Education Plan). As I tell all my new folder students fresh from middle school, “I am your best friend in high school. Come to me or look me up at any time if you have a serious problem.” If I suspect or know about abuse in the home, I am legally bound to report it immediately (I may lose my certificate if I don’t).
My main concern when I receive a special education freshman from middle-school is to guide him/her toward occupational independence. After 4 years of high school, this student must have a clear idea of what path he is going to follow and my job is to make sure he has had all the information at his finger tips in order to decide. There are questionnaires, surveys, assessments, manual practice, pamphlets, state agencies, presentations by colleges and vocational schools, and all kinds of vocational supports in a public high school. Even if we do not offer a particular field, we can “bus” the student to the specialized institution where he will receive a thorough preparation. For example, we offer classes and practices focused on business, on personal care such as cosmetology, cooking for large groups (complete with a trained chef), auto mechanic, air-conditioning technician, woodwork, plumbing, electricity, construction, medical field (nurse, medical assistant), computer design and website construction, and quite a few other areas where the student should be able to find work more or less easily.
They may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Placing disabled kids in inclusion classes allows them to mingle with their non-disabled peers, a practice that benefits both as the first enjoy a boost in self-esteem while the second learn tolerance toward physical and mental differences. The classroom teacher, however, struggles to adapt his/her lesson plan to address the varied needs of all students. The addition of another teacher, a professional in special education, reduces the strain of differentiated teaching if both instructors mesh in harmony.
A good inclusion teacher will do his/her best to motivate his or her students, especially the ones who are struggling or who refuse to do the work regularly. Sometimes, a non-disabled teen will reject the help, it has happened to me, believing erroneously that I am not their teacher or that it would place them in the same category as the special education classmates. Yes, there is a certain stigma attached to the label “inclusion student”; the perception is probably due to the lack of comprehension by both regular students and classroom teachers. The question I am asked most often is “What exactly does Learning Disability mean?” I try to clarify the best way possible to my teaching colleagues that these students do not perceive stimuli normally, even though their intelligence level is average-normal. It would take a trained psychologist to give all the details, I am not, but the tool we use to detect such learning disability (LD) is a series of tests which show severe discrepancies between the potential and the actual academic performance. For example, if a child’s verbal ability is calculated at 100 and he/she performs at 85, we call that a learning disability in reading comprehension.
Some schools have eliminated what we know as “resource” classes (also known as self-contained) to place these students in inclusion classes. Teachers know very well that their students come with diverse backgrounds. School districts on the border receive quite a few “new” students from Mexico and Central America who have very little knowledge of English (many come as a result of the violence). Special steps are taken to assimilate them into the system and most of them fit quite well after a couple of years. But others do not fare so well; their reading level is equivalent to second or third grade. They suffer from a gamut of disabilities, from moderate to severe, and often exhibit a very low I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient). As a result of the move to regular classes, classroom teachers are overwhelmed with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans). They simply cannot cope by themselves and require the support of Inclusion Teachers who are certified in Special Education.