Inclusive Education: My Personal Experience
Keynote Address by Joseph Dunlop
As a student who completed public school who received special education, it has been a joyous and rough journey. Having that support was crucial early on in my life. I acquired the necessary tools to succeed academically. Teachers were receptive to my needs and thus, I was able to achieve my goals. Accommodations eased my anxieties in the required classes with a particular emphasis on achieving mastery for quizzes and tests. However, inclusive education has its drawbacks. On a social level, being classified was socially debilitating. Friendship was hard to come by as a result of my age and learning difference. Middle school and high school presented its own challenges. Being one year older than my peers created a social barrier; I was viewed as too different and was not accepted by any groups. In some ways, special education can restrict a student’s potential. Those who have the grades to prove they can handle more advanced coursework should be able to do so. If a student is a strong writer, he or she should be given the opportunity to complete more challenging work. In-class resource teachers need to do their job effectively. I have witnessed its memorable moments as well as its pitfalls. Saying to the student, “We will go over it” does not count as giving support. Those words are particularly defeating to a classified student. When I was told this on many occasions, I was less motivated to be successful. Allow students to push themselves. Make sure the teaching is tied to the student’s learning style. Give them the chance to demonstrate what they can truly do and include them in the realm of learning.
An effective way to engage these students is by allowing them to choose how they would like to maintain the classroom. It could be any of the following: board eraser, passing back or collecting papers, turning the lights on and off, peer assistant and writing homework on the board. These roles could motivate them push themselves as a result of feeling important to the classroom environment. Infuse character building lessons whenever possible. This is what makes me a different teacher. When I see a teachable moment especially in regards social development, I alter the direction of the lesson. It is an opportunity for me to understand their perception of the world and how they interact with each other as well as the struggles they endure. Students need to feel a connection to the teacher, not a friend, but a line of support. That social aspect is tremendous in how students succeed academically. Depending on the class, set time aside each week for students to anonymously submit topics to talk about what went well and what did not go well for them. Indeed, this requires the teacher to screen what is said, however, classes will likely feel more comfortable to share their thoughts. Journal writing is also a powerful tool (written, not typed). On Fridays near the end of class, ask students to reflect on their week and write a paragraph or two about it. Writing is therapeutic; as a writer myself, it is something that puts me into a different frame of mind. Some weeks in the classroom rush at light speeds while others move like sloths. In any event, self-reflection is a chance for students to take a step back and think about what was accomplished or what needs improvement. The more opportunities students have, the more successful their journey will be.