By Elizabeth Stein
"All children can learn." It’s agreed. It sounds optimistic…hopeful…and dare I say it is the sign of an effective teacher? Not quite. When the rhetoric is transformed into action, this statement becomes powerful. Let’s look at this from the lens of a special educator.
In a resource room setting, you must make sure that your instruction targets specific IEP goals while aligning with standards and district expectations—and the general education teacher’s ideas. Easy enough…you pull the students into your classroom, and the instructional time is in your hands. You know your students’ strengths, you teach in small groups, and you judge the best way to spend precious instructional time.
In an inclusive classroom setting, the difference lies in the fact that you are joining someone else’s classroom. The challenge of implementing your well-thought-out lesson plans—or finding the co-planning time—can become a bit daunting. There are three realities of the inclusion world:
- You find yourself in the perfect co-teaching experience. Life is great.
- You find yourself balancing your instructional philosophy with your co-teacher’s, with respect for each other’s roles and goals. Life is good…and balanced.
- You find significant differences between you and your co-teacher…and you become quiet, intimidated, and hesitant to set the teacher in you free.
Most—if not all—special educators would agree that option 3 is a shameful situation to find yourself in. I have far too many memories of educators saying to me, “I hope I do not get observed in my co-taught class…because that is just not me.”
On the bright side, you can avoid option 3 by finding a balance. And one sure way to accomplish this is to constantly think about perspective. So get comfortable and pull up a chair at the table. But be careful which chair you choose…
If you choose the chair on the far left, you will see instruction from the perspective of your students. This view will reveal all of their interests, experiences, thoughts, and needs. If you sit at the far right, you will see the parents’ view, which includes the hope that their children become independent and successful. When you sit at the close left, you will see the perspective of your co-teacher. You’ll see a clear view of the curriculum, standards, assessment, and grade book.
Now…sit contentedly in the chair at the close right. That’s your seat. Take a deep breath. And never forget to breathe out. Take it all in, because you must think about all views AND the fact that you must do your job, too. You must know your students’ needs and goals. You must track students’ progress and provide specific data-based evidence for that progress. You must NEVER become quiet or intimidated… because your students need you.
Keeping in mind the perspectives of all involved in your students’ education will prevent you from feeding the frustrations that an inclusive setting can evoke. Keep an open mind—and don’t forget your core values, which I discussed last week. They will help you sleep at night.
This sense of perspective is necessary when you strive to do everything you can for your students—not to mention, keep your sanity.
“One’s mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains it original dimensions.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes
This challenge for special education teachers can also become the solution when you continue the learning process for yourself. Take the time to learn from:
- your students
- the views of everyone around you
- current research and current events
- your everyday experiences
- your significant and seemingly insignificant observations
"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn."
— John Cotton Dana
This continuous learning will help you act out your conviction that all students can learn, always knowing that you, too, must always be learning…
CEC SmartBrief is one indispensable resource that keeps your learning up-to-date and active. It is a daily gift to yourself (and ultimately, your students) to simply open up your e-mail, click, and read. Subscribe for free today.
Also, check out this CEC article that provides 9 clear steps for planning instruction that activates your belief that all students can learn.
Until next time, don’t forget to ask: “Is this seat taken…?” Stay tuned!