I recently read a post by Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher that did get my feathers ruffled but after processing the comments I was more disheartened then agitated. However before going into a rebuttal and rant I will say that there
are some some valid points and question that I do agree with some, but regretfully what was done was is something that we as educators dislike. As Educators we are often either anger or deflated when the public or government lumps or brands and entire group together in this case all of Special Education.
The first point of the post was: Special Education labels and “indentifies” kids
I will agree that placing labels on children when referring to them both negatively defines them and also sets them up for failure, but as attested to, as another teacher it does give you some insight into the behaviors or issues a child may face or display when you know their diagnosis. I will also agree that the purpose of having diagnostic information is not to hinder a child, but to develop strategies and ideas to engage the student. ADHD was mentioned, yes it is so over used that it is as common as a pencil in a classroom. However you did forgot to mention some of the other diagnosis’s in Special Education that carry significant meaning and require significant modifications and assistance: Asperger‘s, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Tourettes, Autism, Downs Syndrome, ARND, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, MMR, Frontal Lobe and other Neurological concerns, just to name a few. Finally a point of reference, in regards to the regulations and rules surrounding diagnosis in my province. A diagnosis over two years is invalid and the student and files need to be re-evaluated and assessed.
It was mentioned that supports and assistance should be given to all children, with this point I am not going to disagree. There are however situations and occurrences that do require specific interventions that may not be viable in a regular classroom setting. For example I have one grade four student that academically and neurologically is functioning at a kindergarten level. In a classroom of 25 students as a teacher you would be spending 90% of your time working with that student as he is still learning to recognize his alphabet and sounds, and that is after 5 months of work. I also have a student that due to issues of abuse (physical and sexual) is terrified of males and loud noises. For both of these students, my low ratio, modified and educationally assisted classroom has been both rewarding and a safe experience, which can be difficult to maintain in a larger classroom. Many of the modifications of my classroom and the strategies that are used and are successful, are listed in the PAPERWORK. The paperwork, that is briefly mentioned has more than the application of binding rules. Yes, there are elements that are essential for funding and accountability, but furthermore the paper work is a living entity which changes and adjusts as the students grows, succeeds and finds success. The paperwork is also a collaborative document that is discussed with all of the stakeholders, including if possible the student. Before moving to the next point, I will add that it would probably be very beneficial to any student to have an educational plan that grows and evolves with the student.
It is true that it is easy to give students easier sheets to keep them occupied, but many Special Education teachers have the same expectations of their kids as regular teachers do. That the students not only meet expectations but exceed them. That the students improve so that they may join “regular classrooms”. I can only speak from experience, but I do modify assignments and break down assignments into easier steps. This is to ensure that the students are successful in one section or topic before moving on to another. I expect my students to have proper punctuation and writing skills. My students are required to do novel studies , blog, make presentations using Animoto, Dipity, power point and participate in many other activities that mainstream students do.I do agree that it may take the kids a little longer to complete units and curricular topics, but this way every child has grasped the topic and the faster ones can then help the ones that are struggling, allowing them to feel like they can contribute and be learning leaders.
Special education refers to the education of students identified with mild, moderate, or severe disabilities or as gifted and talented. It is founded on the belief that all children can learn and reach their full potential — given opportunity, effective teaching and appropriate resources.Instruction, rather than setting, is the key to success. Decisions related to the placement of students and children are best made on an individual basis, in a way that maximizes their participation in the experience of schooling.
I am not saying that everything in Special Education should be considered doctrine or that we do everything correctly. Like any classroom mistakes are made and learning from those mistakes happen. Here at my school, we are designated Special Education for many reasons but most importantly because we are the end of the line. Students arriving at our school come from some of the most appalling backgrounds and have some of the most severe learning, social and emotional disabilities. These students have been in regular classrooms, with supports with accommodations, but due to compounded circumstances are sent to me.
I understand that there are many educators that are frustrated, with many aspects and many elements both outside of education and within that affect students, but I ask please don’t be-little, demean or dis-empower what Special Educators do. There are some great things that have come out of Special Education such as One-to-One Learning and Differentiated Learning. As educators we are here to help students and to help each other help students. We can all learn from each other Special or Regular Education. Just a thought…