I’ve been reading Jan Valle and David Conner’s Rethinking disability, a disability studies approach to inclusive practices. Thus far, I’ve found it to be a really concise, entertaining and easy to maneuver text about inclusive educational practices. It’s a nice departure from the repetitious/outdated/seemingly inapplicable tomes I’ve encountered in grad. school. I definitely recommend picking it up.
Valle & Conner (2010), open chapter three with a description of how special education teachers are perceived by the general public:
As soon as “I am a special education teacher” leaves our lips
we are transformed in the eyes of our audience, who lightly gasp and murmur,
“Why, you must be a very special person yourself.”
Amid a circle of nodding heads, there is always one who goes on to confess what the others are thinking,
“You know, I could never do what you do” (Valle and Conner, 40).
Those of us in the field of special education, have likely encountered a situation similar to the one Valle & Conner (2010) illustrate. Often, we’re heralded as a unique breed of educators with highly specialized training, vast amounts of patience and a skill set differing from that of our general education colleagues.
Unfortunately, this is kind of true.
My graduate school special education courses have prepared me to: Differentiate lesson plans for inclusive classrooms; study and write IEPs; compose cohesive lesson plans and co-mingle with general education cohorts, via collaborative paths of study: child psychology courses, classroom management courses, educational philosophy courses, assessment courses and fieldwork.
In other words, I’ve learned how to work with learners who have special needs and those who don’t.
However, this doesn’t seem to work both ways. My school requires childhood general educators to take one special education course, a course on inclusive practices. No doubt, this is hugely beneficial, but I find it ironic.
Salend, (2001) notes:
Inclusion seeks to establish collaborative, supportive, and nurturing communities of learners
that are based on giving all students the services and accommodations they need to learn.
I’d argue that inclusion as an educational philosophy applies nicely to teachers in training.
When I applied to grad. school, I had to make a choice. Do I go for a degree in childhood general education or childhood special education or one of the subsets of the latter? (I chose the latter with a focus in behavior disorders).
There is an inherent (i.e., exclusionary) practice in the mere fact that we have to choose what type of educator we want to become: general or special. The message here seems to be that you can only choose one, thus, excluding the other.
I dunno. Shouldn’t we learn, while training to be teachers, how to work with all students? Why do we have to choose a certain course of study?
Shouldn’t we just learn how to teach?
As the Valle and Conner (2010) passage reflects, general educators and special educators travel different paths to the professional world and this path mirrors the journey our students make. Although, we choose our educational path as teachers in training, we’re still separated: We have to learn different things, we’re held in different regard to our counterparts and are “transformed in the eyes of our audience.”
However, the fact is, we have to learn to teach all students regardless of IEPs, disabilities, classifications and/or anecdotes from the previous years’ teacher who mentioned how hard [student] is to work with. We’re going to need to learn how to set up a classroom to benefit all students, make behavior plans, learn what works best for each individual student. Be your focus general or special education, the landscape is going to look similar on that first day of school: We’re gonna be expected to teach something.
Just as it will for the students. No matter what IEP, disability, classification and/or learning history they bring: They’re gonna be expected to learn something.
If we’re working towards making inclusionary practices a part of the educational landscape for our learners, it seems like we should be working towards making inclusion a common practice in graduate school.
Zachary Ikkanda is a Board Certified assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) who has been working with children with autism for 10 years. Mr. Ikkanda has worked in educational and clinical settings in California and New York, utilizing the principles of behavior and B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior. Currently, Mr. Ikkanda serves as a therapist and consultant developing home and school based educational and behavioral interventions for children with Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders. He is a member of the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis, the Council for Exceptional Children and the Association for Behavior Analysis International. Mr. Ikkanda is currently pursuing a masters of science in childhood special education, with a focus on behavioral disorders, at Hunter College in New York. You can visit his blog at: www.zachikkanda.com
Salend, S. J. (2001). Creating inclusive classrooms: Effective and reflective practices. (4 ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Valle, J. W., & Connor, D. J. (2010). Rethinking disability, a disability studies approach to inclusive practices. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages.