I spent the day with an elementary school special education team. It was quite the experience.
The lesson to be learned was inclusion. It’s the law in America, it’s the name of the game in our county.
While reading about inclusion in class, I found I wasn’t very positive about it. I had no prior experience to base my views on. And, without discriminating against special education students, I wondered how much work could actually get done in the classroom on any given day. Wouldn’t all the students suffer from the foreseeable difficulties that could arise from this situation?
Inclusion–I saw it in action today, and I must say I was very impressed.
I was invited to jump right in.
Starting things off, I helped a speech therapist, a reading specialist, three special education teachers, an ESOL teacher, and a general education teacher as they worked together on one goal: to have all 19 students learn how to tell time.
Then I helped V, one of the students, with his math test.
Before we started, he asked me what I did. I said I was in school hoping to be a reading specialist.
“College, yuck! Too much work!”
He grinned at me. I told him I was pretty sure he’d like college.
He shrugged, “I just want to be a zoo keeper. I don’t have to go to college for that.”
I grinned back at him. “Oh yes you do!”
He got to work. Finishing ahead of the set time, he got all 50 math problems right. Way to go, V! I told him I definitely thought he should go to college. He grinned proudly, “I’m gonna go show the principal my paper!”
Then I did a reading test with R, recently diagnosed as autistic. He read quite well. I wasn’t prepared for his seizures, but I learned from the other teachers. I rubbed his arm and kept talking softly to him when they hit.
After we read a couple of books, I let him take a break. He got up and grabbed something from the bookcase. Then he sat, head bent close to the table, totally engrossed. I leaned over to see. Legos–the universal language of boys! I listened to him tell me about every toy on the magazine. He sounded like my own boys.
I did another reading test with J. After reading the assigned book, J leaned back and talked about life from an eight-year-old’s perspective. The world, as seen through her beautiful green eyes, looked very friendly indeed.
I also met L, a sweet little girl with strawberry blonde hair and a big smile. L has Down’s Syndrome. With my textbook knowledge in mind, I watched to see how she interacted with her classmates. I was touched to see how patient the general education students were with her, and how she responded with excitement to everything.
I started re-thinking things.
Prior conceptions, shaped by years of study and reflection, did not hold up against this experience.
Something did not feel quite right, and I was itching to get right on it.
I know it was only a day. For all I know, it could have been an exceptionally good day. Yesterday, tomorrow and most days may not look like this at all.
Still, I left with a happy smile on my face.
Driving home, however, the smile faded. Back in the real world we adults have expertly fashioned,
I was once again aware of the distinctions I hold on to, and the classifications I use to hold others back.
I remembered the labels I’ve been given, and the ones I gave in return.
The tags felt heavy around my neck.
I suddenly wanted to go back to that classroom.
I suddenly missed the children.
Too young to have learned the art of typecasting,
they contributed to an atmosphere of patience and acceptance.
their “teacher” for a day,
jaded and tired though I was,
felt the difference.
“Ms. Maria, did you know today is Dr. Suess’ birthday? He’s one of my favorites!”
-Little boy in class
So happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!