During my undergrad, I took a short-term class on inclusive education, which examined the benefits of including all students – including those with disabilities – in standard education. I’ll be honest: I did not like the class, and I did not think that inclusive education was beneficial to anyone, the disabled students, the teacher, or the classrooms. Part of the reason for this was because I have a very strong belief that an individualized education for everyone is one of the best ways to teach, and trying to lump everyone into the same category is not the way to accomplish that. I still hold on to this belief, and try to model my practices as a tutor and aide after this fashion, but since working in a local K-8 school and beginning classes at SPU, I have changed my beliefs about inclusion.
First of all, there is no evidence showing that students learn better when they are isolated from their peers. Studies have shown that while adding students with disabilities to a classroom has no negative impact on the learning of the other students, the positive benefits for the disabled students are huge (Scheuerman, 2015). In fact, the students who are pulled from the classroom to work on their own show a significant drop in achievement. The same can even be said for students who are not disabled, but are considered “low achievers”; these students, when mixed into a group of “high achievers” or “leaders” will also perform better, but when shuffled off with other “low achievers”, they have less academic success (Marzano, 2007). It was hard for me to argue with these facts. On the other hand, when I taught preschool, I had two autistic kids in my class with no additional support. I had neither the training, nor the experience to help me teach them, so often I did not know what to do when confronted with a situation where my students were wandering around the room during naptime, or dumping toys out of buckets constantly without cleaning up. It was frustrating and time-consuming, and it took away my attention from the rest of the classroom. I think now, however, that this was a bit of an extreme situation. In my current work as a tutor and classroom aide, I’ve seen the results of students with IEPs and who are disabled (called Access students) after they have been working in the classroom with the teacher and usually another helper. The age of the rest of their classmates has helped – preschool is a difficult time for a teacher to keep a classroom under control while distracted. But these Access students flourish under the support and care of their teacher, and they learn to work with other students. One student is oppositional-defiant, and she spends the majority of her time in the classroom. She has an IA working with her for the most part, and will sometimes request to leave the classroom if she feels that she is being particularly difficult to work with, but this is a choice she is allowed to make. She consciously thinks about her behavior (or someone helps her realize her behavior) and is allowed to choose how she will respond. In this way, her teacher is not expected to ignore the rest of the class in favor of “fighting” with her, she is learning to manage and track her own behavior, she is more successful in her learning, and her classmates also learn techniques for handling sometimes difficult situations.
It has taken reflection and learning on my part, but I have found that I’ve changed my tune in terms of inclusive education. Every child deserves an appropriate education, regardless of their special needs. And, as Dr. Scheuerman said in class, “every child is special”. Every child has his or her own unique qualities that make them an individual, and every child will need some kind of special attention now and then. It’s up to us as teachers to ensure that this is true for all students. I am a firm believer that including every student in the normal classroom can only promote growth and learning for everyone involved.
Scheuerman, R. (2015). Special education and exceptionalities. [PDF Document]. Retrieved from Blackboard: https://bbweb03.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-1056248-dt-content-rid-2155116_1/courses/EDU6989_44077201453/Issues.Session%203%20%28Inclusion%29.pdf
Marzano, J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.