In terms of education, inclusion is probably my least favorite word. I don’t like using it and I never liked referring to my classroom as inclusive. Anyone who knows me is probably thinking what? That makes no sense Christina. You have spent your entire time as a parent and a large majority of your career fighting for your own children and students to be included in their classrooms, how can you say you don’t like the word inclusion?
That would be a true statement. I have spent both my professional and personal life working to have students with disabilities be included in their classrooms and what I’ve found, in my opinion, is a system that doesn’t make sense. A system in which the learning outcomes for every student are not met within the general education classroom, but rather for some students in isolated settings away from their peers. After many years of working in this system I felt there had to be a better way to support students.
Then it clicked, I am licensed in both elementary and special education. I could be both the general and special education teacher, so I wrote a proposal to have a general education classroom where I also case managed the students that were on IEPs. There was a new school opening up in our district and I thought it would be perfect to start this in a brand new school where the culture hadn’t been established yet. My proposal was approved and thus began some of the most pivotal and transformative work of my career.
During this time my class sizes ranged from 28-30 students. Several of them in the gifted and talented program, students on 504 plans, English Language Learners, as well as students with anxiety, attention, and emotional issues. None of whom were on IEP’s and I am not suggesting they should be, but consider this…to qualify for an IEP a student’s disability must be impacting their education in such a way that it impedes their learning. In each of the groups previously mentioned there are issues that arise that can and do impact their ability to learn.
For English language learners it is the language barrier, for students on a 504 plan it may be their struggle with staying focused or a significant health issue, for students in the gifted and talented program it may be anxiety related to the pressure to perform or the lack of endurance when they do face something that challenges them, for kiddos with anxiety it may be worrying every day about how to work in a group.
Now I don’t bring these up to diminish the challenges that students with disabilities face by any means. I bring these up to point out that each and every student comes to school with both strengths and challenges and on any given day those challenges can impact their ability to learn. When I requested to have this classroom, I didn’t have to include in my proposal that the students with anxiety, or in the gifted and talented program, or the English language learners, or any other of my students be included in my classroom, it was assumed that they were my responsibility. Yet, I did have to request that the students on IEPs be included in my classroom, which inherently implies that they were not my responsibility.
This, is an example of a system, that does not make sense. Which brings me back to that word, inclusion. By definition, inclusion, means the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. When you look at classrooms though the lens of our current system it seems logical to use the term inclusion. However I would argue that just like the other students in my classroom that were not on IEPs, the ones that were, should have been assumed to already be there and my responsibility. When you look at it like that, inclusion just doesn’t make sense because you don’t need to include someone that is already considered to be part of the group.