Saturday, October 13, 2012

One Boy, Two Perspectives

A few years ago I joined other educators around a table to discuss a preschool student transitioning to kindergarten. Two of the educators at the table were the student's teachers- one had him in the morning in a small special education class with five other students. The other taught the student in the afternoon in a general education preschool class with fifteen other students. As the meeting progressed the two teachers stared at each other in disbelief and horror. They each described a very different student. The special education teacher described a young boy with no academic skills. A boy she felt may need to be placed in an intellectual disabilities classroom down the line. The general education teacher described a bright, though shy boy with many academic skills- a boy who could write his name, count to 10 and knew his alphabet. Neither teacher could believe that the other one would be so blind toward the child in question. They each truly believed they knew the child- they'd taught him all year. They were both experienced educators who have a good understanding of child development. Yet their years of experience gave them each a different perspective on the child.

The following year when I supported the boy in his general education classroom I found a very bright yet shy boy who was able to count to ten, say his alphabet, build anything anyone put in front of him, and write his name. I watched him shut down when the speech pathologist worked with him and I watched the speech pathologist form an opinion of him much like his preschool special education teacher's opinion. From her years of experience she saw a boy with limited functioning. Eventually we helped the student get comfortable enough with her so that she too could see his bright sparks.

The special education teacher and the speech pathologist were not wrong- they made their judgments based off of what they observed. In the special education setting the boy had never been asked to count to ten, write his name, or say the alphabet. He was never given the peer models to show how to behave and therefore his shy, quiet mannerisms morphed into what appeared to be a cognitive disability. Yet in the general education classroom he followed his peer models, overheard the alphabet song being sung, and attempted participating in classroom activities like writing his name. He was given the chance to try these activities so he rose to the challenge.

This experience haunts me this year as I watch the students in my class. I fully support the intellectual disabilities self-contained program but I also realize it has its limits. I worry that my students will not be exposed to activities and lessons their general education peers are exposed to and that this lack of exposure will further separate them from their peers. They may be fully capable of learning and performing academic tasks that their peers can perform, but since they are not being exposed to it they never will learn how. 

Last year I tried very hard to model my classroom lessons after what was happening in the general education classrooms. I wanted it to be as similar as possible so that my students would be exposed to everything their gen ed peers were exposed to. I differentiated for them so that the lessons met their needs, but I also followed much of the same lesson structures and demands of the gen ed classrooms. Last year I was a part of the gen ed kindergarten team and so I was able to follow the gen ed curriculum closely.

This year, sadly, I am not a part of any of the gen ed teams because of time-demands. I am teaching specific, scripted programs that do not allow us to follow the gen ed curriculum. I am terrified that all of this limits my students and that I am becoming that preschool special education teacher who believed a student was not capable of activities he had mastered solely because she never asked him to do them. 

I hope that merely being aware of the problem will help me remember to constantly challenge my students, but I have the sinking feeling that it is not enough. 

1 comment:

molly said...

I'm trying to follow the gen ed curriculum much more closely this year whenever I pull kids out and am also trying to do more push-in. I have heard a lot about how kids "rise to the challenge," but I honestly haven't seen it yet. I'm feeling like a failure because my math students are having such a hard time meeting their grade level standards even with the very focused direct instruction in a very, very small group. I wasn't under the illusion that we would be able to maintain the same pace as the regular class, but I did hope we'd be ready to move on from the first concept after over a month of school.

And..you've got to get some planning time! Although you're not working directly with a grade level team, I think your past experience with the general curriculum will be helpful in knowing what to strive for with your students. However, nothing beats seeing your peers do something. Is your class included at all with their grade level peers?

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