Turning "My" Students into "Our" Students
I was one of those to jump on the bandwagon against inclusion, a much-debated topic in education. I had come to Southeast High School in Oklahoma City with several years of special education teaching experience. It was not then an inclusion school. When we began working toward inclusion, I had a difficult time believing that it could be a correct placement for "my" students. Most of the students in the special education classroom could do regular classroom tasks, such as taking notes from an overhead projector. However, I was concerned that despite modifications in their class work and homework, "my" students would not be able to function in the regular classroom. Would they understand the importance of a world-known event in history? Would they be able to locate places on a map? Could they understand how to solve algebraic and geometric problems?
Southeast High School is a technology magnet school dedicated to preparing students for higher education. We are determined to help students develop the skills to be "simply the best," whether they are pursuing further education or entering the work force immediately after graduation. During their freshmen year, all students are enrolled in a rotation schedule to experience each technology program Southeast offers. These programs are consumer services, aviation and aerospace, communication, and computer repair. Students are also enrolled in core academic and elective courses. After completion of the rotation schedule, a student chooses one area in which to specialize. Special education students are expected to enroll and participate in technology classes, as well as academic courses.
The 1997-1998 school year began, with students identified as "special needs" enrolled in regular education classes for their core classes. They were also enrolled in one special education class designed for remediation of subjects to provide modifications to their coursework. As usual, their Individualized Education Programs (I.E.P.) were monitored by all parties involved.
Our continuum of services for special education students at Southeast High School includes the following combinations: full-time special classes for academic, social, and/or remediation purposes; part-time special classes with part-time inclusion classes; or full-time inclusion classes. Weekly or monthly consultations involving the student, the special education teacher and regular teachers are also part of the service. These services are designed for all of our special education students (learning disabled, mentally disabled, emotionally disturbed, and other health impairments), to help them become successful in a regular education classroom and perform to their ability level, with or without modifications to coursework. The ultimate goal of our separate special education classrooms is to prepare these students for a regular classroom setting. The special education classroom is not a holding cell for students with behavior problems, but an area for remediation.
The role that I have undertaken since Southeast began inclusion is one of facilitator to the regular education teacher and to special and regular education students. Some special education teachers may scoff at this idea; I did initially. I thought, "Why did I go to college for five years, only to be an aide?" That is the wrong attitude and has no place in a successful inclusion program! Now I realize that inclusion benefits both regular and special education students. Think for a moment about a classroom lead by two professionals. One has been trained in a specific content area (English, history, science or mathematics), large group management and curriculum presentation. The other has specialized in behavioral management techniques, remediation techniques, learning styles/strategies and assessments. I now wonder, "Who would not want this situation in a classroom?"
As well as academic benefits, the social benefits of inclusion are also dramatic for both regular and special education students. When special needs students are kept in special classes for the majority of the day, they may not know how to behave or dress in certain social situations. Regular education students benefit from having classes with disabled individuals so that they learn how to interact with others who are different from themselves.
"My" students have enjoyed participation in regular education classes. Some have even out-performed regular education students. One student, I'll call Chris, came from a self-contained special education program at a neighboring middle school. Despite below-average reading, writing, and math skills, Chris was enrolled in all regular courses (based on modified block) during his first term at Southeast. Some modifications to help him with his coursework were: allowing the use of a calculator, reducing the number of problems for homework (quality over quantity), extending the amount of time allowed for completion of written assignments, copies of class notes, oral testing, and tutoring after school.
What transpired in his English class was absolutely amazing! His English teacher and I watched him grow into a class leader. Chris would not only participate or contribute to class discussions, but he would also begin them! Although Chris experienced success in biology and English 9, his progress in pre-algebra was slow. The I.E.P. team chose to place him in a resource room for math. It was difficult for the team to help Chris understand why this choice had been made, although he did realize that he needed a bit more remediation in math. However, Chris completed the first term with a great deal of success and confidence in his academic and social skills.
At this time, I continue teaching at Southeast High School, working in regular education classrooms, helping both special education and regular students, and I could not be more excited about the growth in learning that is occurring with "our" special education students. The teachers and administrators here are extremely competent, professional and caring about all students. I have learned that the key to successful integration of special education students into regular education classes is communication between teachers, parents, and students. I've learned that "my" students bloom when nurtured as "our" students.
Editor's note: Since writing this article in January, 1998, Jenifer Randle has left her teaching position at Southeast High School to pursue further study.
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