I haven't decided what my final opinion is on this. It changes daily, depending on how the kids were that day, how the teachers were, and my own energy level.
We are a full-inclusion school, which is incredible. Last year the speech therapist even came into my room to work with the kids instead of pulling them out. Except for the children receiving reading recovery, very few students are ever 'pulled' at my school. Considering some of the significant needs a few children have, as well as our high English Language Learner population, this is really something we work hard to make work. In many ways it's incredible and contributes to the loving and accepting nature of our school community.
Is it always best for every child? As a classroom teacher I had a child who had previously been self-contained at another school. We watched him come in with one set of behaviors and slowly develop behaviors reflected in traditionally developing children. I also had a child with autism who fit in perfectly. I think my first graders would have been shocked if anyone had suggested there was something different about him.
Then there are the kids who sit in an inclusion classroom, but don't achieve. Is it really their least restrictive environment if they are too scared to open their mouths because they are embarrassed of their ability? Or if the teachers are only managing their behavior to make them fit, but never really contributing to their actually education. Learning how to interact with others is arguably the most important skill you learn in school, and is an essential life-skill for children with communication disorders like autism. Yet sometimes it feels like we're maintaining sanity instead of educating.
I have a few children this year who require separate hours in a special education setting. Although this is very rare at my school I have been allowed to continue to meet these IEP requirements. Their growth in 3 weeks has been amazing. I watch them come to our group and let themselves relax for the first time all day. Originally did not participate in their classroom, but in group we've been able to work on skills to give them confidence. As they became comfortable in a small setting they have slowly begun to apply those skills in the classroom.
The thing is, the subject of inclusion is never going to be black or white. Every child is different and there is no one right answer.
In my first few weeks as a special education teacher this question continues to pop into my head frequently. Is this the best way to serve my kiddos' needs? I am sure I will continue to debate it in my head. I'd love to hear your comments and thoughts.