Full inclusion is a philosophical movement based upon the notion that all students, regardless of the level or type of disability, should be educated entirely in the same general education classrooms as their same-age peers. Advocates of a policy of full inclusion feel that special education classrooms constitute a form of segregation and that separate classrooms for special education students, like classrooms segregated by race, are inherently unequal.
For special education students who have been unnecessarily penned in self-contained classrooms, or in rooms which, in special ed vernacular, are referred to as cross-categorical dumps, with exposure to general education population and instruction kept to a bare minimum, full inclusion might be an improvement in the children’s educational plans.
However, for special education students receiving services from teachers who believe, as I do, that these children should only be in the resource or categorical rooms for specific instruction provided with expertise — remediation of speech; reading; math; language; living skills; and for those students who have already been mainstreamed with acceptance, and success in all offerings except the above; the policy of full inclusion serves to cheat remedial students out of the direct, disability-specific instruction they so greatly need in order to progress out of special education and leave all labels behind.
For the thousands of skilled, well-trained, experienced, committed teachers of special education, full inclusion serves as a death blow to their careers; the end of their opportunities to do what they love and do best — lesson delivery. Skilled, committed teachers want to teach, and our students want, and need for us to teach! But, because our teacher training schools recommended us for teaching certificates with the general designation of “special education teacher,” we are now considered, by NCLB, to be unqualified to teach academic subjects: math; English; reading; social studies, and so on through the course offerings.
Full inclusion now offers thousands of opportunities for this nation to criminally waste the potential and resources of its citizens — of the special education teachers, and of the special education students who need, but will not receive, those special services that were hard-won by parents and advocates over the past fifty and more years.
I wonder who the writers of the No Child Left Behind law think has been teaching these special students during all of the preceding decades? The classroom aides? Maybe, hidden deeply within the law, one might even find a clause stating that school aides are highly qualified based on their existing job description — Instructional Aide, but that special education teachers are not highly qualified because of their generalist job label. It would not surprise me since the lack of logic has become just that asinine; the real and potential repercussions just that likely.
Do not get me wrong. Special education teachers will still have jobs. We are repeatedly reminded of that, and attempts are made to further comfort us with assurances that “The schools will even need more special educators!” The mis-organizers; the mis-educators; shallowly believe that money is the only thing we value; the only thing that keeps us working with our students. Yes, special education teachers will still have jobs; they just will not have careers. They will still be referred to as special education teachers — even as their roles are denigrated, downplayed, and at times, even despised.
However, rhetoric aside, we special education teachers are being expected to plan and support our own denigration; expected to assume our roles as second class citizens; as glorified teacher aides; with good grace. Any objections that we make are viewed; assessed; to be proof positive that we are anti-child; anti-change; anti-progress. Repeatedly we have thrown in our faces, “You are against full inclusion!” In response, we just want to say…
“No, we are not against full inclusion — if it is done legally, intelligently, and…not with us! We chose careers that were to involve teaching. We paid thousands of dollars for training to prepare us to teach. We want to teach! We_want_to_teach!! We do not want to become shadows in the background of a general education teacher’s classroom!
Additionally, not only do we want to teach, our special students need for us to teach. We need to teach, and our students need us to teach in our own rooms, away from the curious eyes of non-disabled peers.
We need to teach, and our students need us to teach, in our own rooms, near our own special instructional materials, where we can doodle or use sign language or show pictures or act theatrical — all as needed in order to help deaf students learn new vocabulary and new concepts; develop better and more mature receptive and expressive language skills; learn to speak with speech that will be understood by the people in their lives.
We need to teach, and our students need us to teach, in our own rooms, where we can elevate our voices to better garner attention and focus from the massive numbers of Teaching-Disabled, and the few true Learning-Disabled children so we can remediate delayed skills; close academic gaps; help our students return permanently and honestly to general education settings.
We need to teach, and our students need us to teach, in our own rooms, near our own special teaching materials, where we can instruct blind children in Braille, mobility, and life skills.
We need to teach, and our students need us to teach, in our own rooms where we can modify materials, methods and appropriate reinforcements to help mentally retarded children develop skills detailed by individually chosen goals at Individual Educational Planning meetings as per the legal requirements in the federal legislation, IDEA.
It is sheer insanity to believe that most special services can be taken to the special children in the general education classrooms. In order for children to learn, they must be able to focus; comprehend; then hook new information onto existing knowledge. Learners must develop mental parameters in which to acquire new information, and a functioning storage system in which to retain it; from which to draw it for later usage. I cannot, and will not, attempt to teach and remediate in an auditorily cluttered, distracting environment. I need to be able to focus on my instruction, and so do my students!
Picture, if you will, a speech clinician trying to work with a hard of hearing student within the regular classroom. No rational person can possibly believe that the child will even be able to hear /k/, /s/, or /ng/, let alone to hear and benefit from the instruction on how to shape the mouth; place the tongue in relation to the teeth and throat; then accurately produce sounds.
A rational person could not possibly expect a hearing impaired child to accomplish the near-impossible while the general education teacher gives academic instruction in a voice loud enough to carry across a classroom; talk above the noise level as children respond to questions, and rustle papers, and hand in work, and move fannies in their seats and talk out-of-turn, …all while interruptions — announcements, children, parents, other teachers, and other special education teachers providing special instruction for other special needs students, enter and leave the classroom.
Call it Chaos. Call it Dumbing Down. Call it anything except an effective educational environment.
Shall the speech clinician or the teacher of the hearing impaired put everyone in the classroom on strict instructions to stay absolutely silent while the individual lesson is taught to that special needs child so that the child can actually hear and benefit from the teaching?
Parents of general ed children could not possibly want their children to spend their days sitting silently, unengaged, waiting… waiting… waiting while instructional time is lost as one or another special educator provides one or more special ed children with such services. How can parents of special children possibly see any value in forcing the children of other families to lose educational opportunities just so their own special needs children can be seated in general education classes for full inclusion, whether they are intellectually and academically prepared to gain from such placement, or not? Will such placements make their child less handicapped? No. Both sets of children get cheated, no if’s, and’s, or publicity-to-the-contrary about it.
I recently attended an inservice presented by two very caring and involved teachers who team-teach in a public school setting. Constantly they reminded us that equality and parity between the teachers are of utmost importance if full inclusion is to work effectively. During the course of all these reminders, it became clear that parity does not even exist between those two teachers, and would rarely develop between other general/special ed combinations, either.
The general ed teacher was very definitely the lead person in the team, so much so that late in the afternoon, when the special ed teacher happened to remind us, “My name is…,” I turned to a co-worker and whispered, “Oh, I thought the name was ‘her’.” All day the general ed teacher had referred to the special ed teacher — her role is; I let her do this little bit of class each day; I have her write on the board as I teach; her students are placed in the class to be exposed to algebra even though we can’t expect them to actually understand and do algebra.
When someone asked if the special education teacher teaches any of the math classes, the reaction of the general education teacher was immediate, genuine and…telling. It might have been the response of any one of thousands of displaced special education teachers, as well,
“No! I want to do the teaching!! I don’t want to give up the fun part of my job! I went to school to be a teacher and I want to teach!!”
My point; my feelings, … exactly!
I have been teaching since 1972. I have spent the decades since then improving my skills, education, training and experience. When all of the resources that I can offer to special children are no longer welcomed for use in the schools, then it is, indeed, time for me to leave the teaching profession. It will be a loss for the children who will not…learn to read; learn math; learn language; develop self-confidence; escape from special education, under my tutelage. The same will be true for thousands and thousands of the students of committed special education teachers across the land.
The loss of potential will amount to criminal theft from every special needs student who might have had a special education teacher who, like me, loves to teach, and who teaches with the goal of freeing the child from the bondage of special ed labels. The rejection of my skills will amount to criminal theft from me, as well.
Full inclusion will insure that too many special needs children remain bound to labels, intellectually and academically shortchanged, for the remainder of their lives.
Go ahead…let those children experience social placements while they waste precious learning time away from learning placements. See what comes of this new fad as the pendulum of progressive education swings wildly; as it continues to batter and destroy lives in its erratic path.
Shame on all the administrators, teachers and parents who purposely harm the educational opportunities of all children — but especially devastate the lives of those special children so in need of skilled, committed special instruction — by forcing politically-motivated hindrances into the classrooms of America.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] is an educational consultant, homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for presentations, inservices, and workshops.