Teaching in an inclusion classroom is a hard but incredibly rewarding experience. When teaching in an inclusion or mainstreamed classroom, you will teach both students with and without disabilities. You also will most likely have a special education teacher in your room for part or all of the day. Inclusion classrooms do run very differently, but once you understand the basics, they are exciting, rewarding and full of learning opportunities.
Understand the basics of your student’s disability
These are 4 common categories/diagnoses for disabilities. Although these are the common ones, this isn’t all. If you ever have any questions regarding your student’s disabilities, contact the special education teacher. Disability information for practitioners come from a book called the DSM-5. I own a DSM-5 overview and it is so useful! Click here to view it on amazon. Totally worth the money!
LD- SLD- Learning Disability or Specific Learning Disability- This is when an individual has average IQ, no visual or hearing impairments, and no emotional or behavioral disabilities but is still having difficulty learning. A specific learning disability can impact reading, writing, comprehension or mathematics. This category can be broken down into specific disabilities like dyslexia, discalculia, and auditory processing disorder.
ID- Intellectual Disabilities- This is when an individual has an IQ that is lower than average. Their intellectual functioning impacts problem solving, reasoning, and abstract thinking. The individual also has deficits in adaptive functioning, which can include social skills and daily living skills.
ASD- Autism Spectrum Disorder- This disorder affects an individual’s ability to communicate with others. As this disorder is a spectrum, no two individuals with autism look and act the same. Some may be nonverbal, some may have full verbal capabilities, some may be aggressive and some may be non aggressive. These individuals often have difficulty understanding verbal cues, have focused interests, fixation on routines, and heightened or lack of stimulation from environmental stimuli.
EBD- Emotional and Behavioral Disorders- This is a term, much like SLD, that encompasses many disabilities. Emotional and behavioral disorders affect the individual’s emotions and behaviors. This category can be broken down into specific disorders like oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, and impulse disorders among others.
Batshaw, M., Roizen, & Lotrecchiano, G. (2013). Children with disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H Brookes Publishing Company.
Routines are key
Routines are vital for individuals with disabilities, they allow them to know what is happening next. If you are teaching an inclusion classroom, ensure that every day is as similar as possible. Have morning meeting at the same time everyday, switch subjects at the same time, and line up for activities at the same time. Also, some children with disabilities may have a hard time transitioning from one activity to another, so try to give time reminders. Ex- “10 minutes until we need to pack up!” “5 minutes until lunch time!”.
As much as we’d like to reinforce routines, sometimes our routines get messed up. If it is foreseeable, like picture day or a guest speaker, make sure your class knows in advance, perhaps a week in advance, and remind of the change daily. If it is unforeseeable, try to support your student as much as you can without being overbearing.
Decide on a collaboration style you want
Like I said earlier, you will most likely have a special education teacher in your room part-time or full-time. Collaboration can be extremely successful if done correctly, but is easy to mess up. Make sure to have open communications with your collaboration partner always. Discuss lesson plans, discipline, grading, classroom set up, and parent contact for ALL STUDENTS.
There are six types of collaboration, one teaching one assisting, one teaching one observing, parallel teaching, alternative teaching, station teaching, and team teaching. This website explains the collab. styles well. No matter what form of collaboration you all choose, ensure that you go into the beginning of the school year as equal partners in the classroom.
There will most likely be bullying
I’d love to tell you your classroom is going to run beautifully with no bullying at all. But I can’t. Hatred is produced from fear and lack of knowledge regarding a topic. By virtue, we exclude things that are different from others. This will probably happen if inclusion isn’t handled properly.
To avoid this, do not have the “your kids vs my kids” mentality for inclusion -aka that separation between your special education children and your general education students. Don’t have your SPED kids sit at one table together, have them spread out between the class. When doing group work, have your special education students intertwined between our general education children.
If it ever becomes a real issue, treat your children like adults and educate them. Always, always, keep in mind that hatred stems from fear and lack of knowledge. This happened when I worked as a counselor for kids with special needs. I was also a bus counselor, so I had to go on the bus with kids from the camp who lived in a neighboring county. I heard them one day discussing the children at camp who had special needs, and saying some pretty negative things. Rather than disciplining, I took the time to sit down with them and discuss the students, what disability means, how camp can sometimes be really hard for them, and how to help them if you see them struggling. The students had copious amount of questions, and we spent the whole bus ride discussing disabilities and what it meant to have a disability. The next day at camp, I was monitoring the locker rooms while the kids were changing. This is a hard time for my kids because it’s a time with no routine or certainty. When I poked my head in to make sure my kids were alright, a girl from my bus was helping my girl get her things together and was encouraging her. I have never seen something more beautiful than that. Remember: hatred comes from fear or lack of knowledge.
You will need to go to IEP meetings
As the student’s general education teacher, you will be required to go to the student’s IEP meetings. I explain what an IEP is later on in this post. At these meetings, you will see the student’s family, one of your administration members, the student’s case manager/special education teacher, any related service providers, and the head of special education or the special education lead teacher. The parents are able to bring a representative or an attorney, although most don’t. During these meetings all members of this team discuss the student’s present level of performance, how any current modifications/accommodations are helping, and if any new accommodations and modifications are needed. Do not feel overwhelmed or intimidated at these meetings. If you feel like you need add to the conversation or request new accommodations and modifications make sure you speak up! Remember that IEP teams are so large so that all aspects of the student’s education is considered, so make sure to speak when you feel the need to.
Your students will usually receive services
Services are can be provided like speech therapy, occupational therapy, reading intervention, or counseling services. Some of these services can be provided in the classroom, but most are pull-out. While the service provider will take care of most of this, be familiar with their service schedule– know what days and what time the student will get pulled out. You will need to catch the student up on the material that they missed while they were gone. Additionally, make sure to communicate with the service provider regarding field trips or schedule changes!
As a rule of thumb, when disciplining and giving instructions be very straight forward
When I say straight forward, I mean that you clearly set out expectations. No more “. . . you know the rules. . .”. Be more straight forward than that and cut out vague phrasing. Keep in mind that our students with disabilities can have a hard time with abstract thinking, communication, and comprehension. Don’t make them try to search for what you are trying to say to them.
Example– “While you’re working in small-group I expect your voices to not go above a whisper and that you clean up your station before you switch”. Example– “Free time is not an option right now, you may choose to either write in your journal or do a puzzle”. Example- “You may participate in class when you are seated calmly in your chair with a quiet voice and your hands in your lap”.
Understand that you need to be private
FERPA or Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act allows our students with disabilities and their families complete privacy regarding their education. This means that you are not able to discuss the student’s disabilities, their accommodations and modifications, and their grades with other people. You may discuss this with the family members, your administration and their special education teacher. If you have a copy of their IEP, it needs to be out of sight from others in a locked drawer.
I hope that this post helps all of my inclusion teacher friends out! While inclusion teaching is a drastic change from general education teaching, it is incredibly rewarding and (in my humble opinion) makes you a better teacher. What else would you like explained? COMMENT and let me know! As always, please help me share the blog by SHARING this on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter if you enjoyed! It is greatly appreciated.
IEP-Individualized Education Plan- This is the student’s legal document that outline their disability, how their disability impacts their education, their present level of performance, services provided, accommodations and modifications, and goals.
LRE- Least restrictive environment- This is the environment where the student can learn effectively, yet is receiving the correct supports they need for their disability. If a student is capable of learning effectively in a collaboration classroom, they should not be placed in a self-contained classroom.
Modifications- These change what is expected of the student and changes the assignments. This could mean shortened assignments, easier questions/reading assignments, or having a word bank, among others.
Accommodations– These do not change what is expected of the student and does not change the assignment. Accommodations assist the student in completing the same assignment as their peers. These could be read aloud, pencil grips, verbal or nonverbal cues and prompts, graphic organizers, or manipulative among others.