When I was in upper elementary, middle and high school, we were divided up into three groups: gifted, average and special needs. I think the special needs programs started right from kindergarten, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m pretty sure the gifted programs started around the 2nd or 3rd grade in my district.
I didn’t place into the gifted program at first. But when my dad got wind of that, he fought for me, telling all of my teachers they were underestimating my abilities because I was shy. If they could give me a chance, he promised I’d come out of my shell. His determination got me an extra shot at a skills assessment and low and behold I made it into the program!
I’m grateful to him or that because I was able to attend a lot of advanced classes. Sure we had a lot more homework than the other kids, but we were taught at a fast pace and had challenging assignments that stretched our creativity. It can be fun when your brain gets a work out.
Is Separation Causing More Harm Than Good?
But I do wonder what it would have been like if we didn’t have separate classes in school. What if all of us were taught together, including the students with special needs? Would there have been less bullying in school and more unity? Perhaps I would have built more confidence early on and learned better through different teaching methods.
I remember one boy in particular who attended my elementary school. He was quiet and had to attend classes completely isolated from the rest of us because he was mentally challenged. I felt so sad when other kids teased him because he was different. Kids can be so cruel. Perhaps if that boy was a part of our classes, those kids wouldn’t have bullied him as much. It’s hard to say.
Experimenting With Inclusive Classrooms
I came across an article by NPR recently about a middle school that’s located in one of my old neighborhoods. I’ve walk by this school countless times, watching kids running, playing basketball or standing around gossiping in the concrete playground.
Sometimes the kids got into violent fights near the school though. One time my bus to work drove past a group of kids surrounding two girls in a bloody fist fight. Two brave souls immediately yelled for our driver to stop and sprinted off the bus to break it up. Now that’s heroic.
Anyway, what’s surprising about this middle school is that 10% of the 1,200 students have special needs. That’s a really high percentage! What I also found interesting is that the principal and teachers at this school are pushing to get more and more special needs kids integrated into the general education classes instead of keeping them separated.
There’s Still A Long Way To Go
This mixing of students of varying abilities into “inclusive classrooms” is new to me and something I think is quite interesting for the future of education. As with most things, it can be pretty complicated and every school is going to have a slightly different situation. States are also quite divided on the matter.
What we do know is that as the rate of students with unique needs continues to rise, more and more is being demanded of teachers, students, school districts, budgets, and parents.
Are inclusive classrooms the answer everyone’s been looking for? Or are they just one of many partial answers educators seek to ensure every child, regardless of need, gets the education he or she deserves? Overall, I think more research needs to be done. We definitely need to spread more awareness as well about the alternatives to traditional classrooms, which are essentially segregated. Here is a closer look at the pros and cons of inclusive classrooms.
Unlike more traditional classrooms, inclusive classrooms are student-focused environments. The objective is for every individual’s strengths and weaknesses to be taken into account. The advantage of teaching in an inclusive classroom – regardless of whether the primary instructor has a master’s in special education or an elementary education degree – is that every student, not just those with extra needs, gets more tailored instruction.
Support For Multiple Talents
No two children are alike, and the inclusive classroom takes this reality in stride. It emphasizes that multiple types of intelligence re valuable, teachable and necessary in both education and life skills.
Inclusive classrooms encourage the mindset that talents in sports, visual art, music, dance and emotions are as highly valued as aptitudes in math, spelling or following directions. It’s an approach that highlights every student in some way because each child has something to offer and learn.
Inclusive classrooms are designed to have a curriculum that can be adapted, changed and transformed based on the needs of the individuals making use of it. This can be advantageous to minority students, gifted students, students with physical limitations, non-native English speakers and others who may struggle with a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
One of the greatest advantages of the inclusive classroom is that students with differing abilities and experiences get to interact more closely with one another. This can help students build empathy for one another.
The kids can also feel more united since they aren’t physically separated from one another based on abilities. This in turn can foster peaceful environments inside classrooms and beyond.
In more traditional classroom settings, however, students rarely have the opportunity to see the struggles and joys of those different from themselves.
Require Extra Support
Of course, inclusive classrooms are a more complex environment than traditional settings. This, they require extra support to ensure that each students’ needs are adequately met while maintaining order.
Oftentimes, a minimum of two full-time teachers — one with a special ed emphasis and one with a more traditional education background — are needed to provide instruction. Teacher’s aides are often active in inclusive classrooms too.
This extra support costs more—although it can be argued that it doesn’t cost more than providing education to special needs students in general. School districts continue to struggle to keep costs in line with budgets. So it’s no surprise that money is an obstacle that is preventing many schools from offering inclusive classrooms.
A student-centered and adaptive approach is great for students, but it requires a lot more planning time for teachers. Since a lot of teachers in traditional settings are already short on time to prepare lessons, inclusive classrooms can present even greater time constraints.
Because of the need for additional planning time — and the fact that it’s rarely granted — finding teachers willing to staff inclusive classrooms can be difficult.
More Cooperation Is Needed
Inclusive classroom can work incredibly well if students without special needs are accepting and collaborative with others. Without cooperation amongst the students, inclusive classrooms simply can’t function properly.
Some students and their parents willingly embrace those with special needs, while others feel it’s asking too much. Since so much of our culture is focused on individual achievement and competition, inclusive classrooms can be a tough sell to some.
Requires a Wide Range of Teaching Styles
Finally, teaching in an inclusive classroom is simply harder than teaching in a more traditional one. It requires a wide range of teaching styles that can put some teachers out of their comfort zone.
It can be stressful for teachers to learn and apply new styles of teaching on a regular basis. Plus, the pay scale for teachers in inclusive classrooms isn’t always adequately adjusted to reflect the added work, difficulty and skill requirements.
The need to address education for every child isn’t going away. But it’s encouraging to hear that more schools are experimenting with new teaching styles and classroom settings. We all know how important education is to a child’s future and perhaps inclusive classrooms will pave the way to a more accepting and peaceful society!
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