(Two classroom teachers look at inclusion classes. Jeanie Clemmens is a retired high school math teacher from Pennsylvanian. Maryann Schneider is a high school special ed teacher also in Pennsylvania. Their views of inclusion classes follow this introduction. Both passages are wait-listed as likely to be included in the 2nd edition of “Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education.”)
It is difficult to be seen criticizing inclusion classes, even if you are a teacher like me, and like Jeanie and Maryann as seen in their passages below, who so believe in our struggling children that we volunteer for inclusion classes. People who only see the great goals of inclusion classes, but not the debilitating unintended consequences of inclusion mandates that the classroom teacher must live with, often label the teacher who criticizes inclusion as insensitive, uncaring, or even racist. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
The fact is that the inclusion teacher who so wants to help these children is faced with a set of competing mandates for the same block of time, and must violate one or more of them in every class. You simply cannot fit 45 minutes of mandated curriculum, 15 minutes of best practices reinforcement, 10 minutes of mandated administrative actions, and (typically) 30 minutes of mandated inclusion accommodations in a single 60-70 minute class. The teacher who volunteers in caring to help these children is forced to cut something that ends up hurting the very children we are there to help. We are forced into a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching a class full of children pre-identified as of quite different “sizes.” And we are given an impossible set of mandates to complete.
Almost always we make the choice to cut part of the curriculum to focus on the accommodations. The result? We have to live with being forced to dumb down the education of everyone in the classroom — both the inclusion and non-inclusion children are cheated out of ever getting part of the curriculum because of the unintended consequences of yet another ill thought-out mandate by career DoE bureaucrats with little understanding of classroom realities.
Jeanie Clemmens does a great job of describing how an inclusion class really operates. Please notice the time she is away from the board helping with the accommodations, using advanced differentiated teaching methods, and obviously deeply caring about the children in the class. Notice also the amount of time the non-inclusion children have to be doing make-work exercises waiting for the teaching to restart. Maryann does an exceptional job trying balance the competing mandates — as all teachers try to do. But even an exceptional teacher cannot do 115 minutes of mandated functions in a 60 minute class.
(Jeanie Clemmens) Long before I became a certified high school math teacher, I experienced something that has haunted me for years. Our sixth grade class visited the Special Education classroom (in the sixties). The students were relegated to a room in the basement and although it was obvious that the teacher cared a great deal for the non-homogeneous group, it was equally noticeable that they were different. When I started teaching, I was relieved to see that such arcane methods had been abandoned.
Inclusion classrooms of today provide greater social and educational opportunities for special needs students, but they can also benefit the teacher. I think that education would be better if all teaching had aspects of a well-run inclusion class. For one thing, the teacher can establish a pattern that will include all students by gearing the material first to the abilities of the average student. This will ensure maximum learning by the most number of students. If students of lower or greater ability understand on the first go-round, so much the better. If not, a more appropriately targeted approach can be used to draw in the rest of the class. And the second approach helps the average students, because it strengthens what they just learned.
An experienced teacher can address individual learning styles by quietly providing additional support or challenging material and answering questions while visiting each desk. This improves the confidence of each student and removes the social stigma of being singled out as different.
Here are Maryann’s insights. She eloquently demonstrates why there are such unintended destructive consequences from mandates by of Career DoE bureaucrats — simply because the mandates recognize inclusion students require different accommodations unneeded by the non-inclusion students in the class, yet puts all these different students in a one-size-fits-all learning environment with too many mandates to accomplish in the time available.
(Maryann Schneider) Inclusion, like everything else in education, is a trend. When I was in school, kids with severe learning disabilities were not included in the regular education classroom. However, kids with lesser disabilities were, because then they were just labeled “bad,” and they were not yet identified with autism, or ODD, or ED, or a million other letters. That came later, after original labels like Educable Mentally Retarded and Trainable Mentally Retarded became passé or politically incorrect. Then came full inclusion, a trend that has been sticking for some time now as our number of students with disabilities continues to grow.
What I know about inclusion is that it is not for everyone.
In 1996 I wrote a Master’s Thesis proving how regular education teachers were not equipped to handle special education students included in their classrooms. Then I spent almost 20 years trying to debunk my own research to find ways inclusion could work. University requirements for education degrees later changed to automatically include the special education certification. This was important, because parent advocates, paid advocates, expensive lawyers, and stressed out school districts were all jumping on the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) band wagon – rushing to get their children identified as SPED.
The result was children falling through the cracks, and not being placed in the best learning environment to meet their individual needs.
Recently I have become a job coach for special education students who are old enough to hold paying and volunteer jobs in the community. They go through training to learn about holding a job, work ethics and etiquette, and other work-based skills. They observe different fields such as childcare, food service, retail, etc. These students learn meaningful skills, they make valuable contributions to society, and they are self-motivated and eager do a good job. Self-worth and independence are by-products of this program. These same kids could have been the ones lost in a traditional classroom setting.
Most importantly, these children learn to become independent, productive citizens in the community. They learn social skills. I believe more programs such as these are needed to best to serve our special education students. It’s time to think outside the box, the four walls of a traditional fully inclusive classroom, that is.
We already know education is not one size fits all, so why pigeon-hole a very unique group of children.
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