The debate over special education programs in the United States will probably never end. There are heated arguments on both sides of several issues; among these issues is the inclusion classroom and whether or not it is the best solution for every student involved.
What is Inclusion?
Inclusion is the term used for a combination of students of many abilities into one classroom setting. In the inclusive setting, students with special needs are grouped with students in regular educational programs without distinction between the two groups.
What Does an Inclusion Classroom Look Like?
An inclusion classroom often has two teachers--a regular educator and a special educator. (The special educator may often be a paraprofessional or special education assistant.) The students in an inclusion classroom come with a variety of abilities, from special needs to regular educational needs. Students with special needs have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) detailing their specific learning requirements, and it is the job of the teacher(s) in the room to provide those requirements. The students in an inclusion classroom should not know which of their peers do or do not have IEPs; the teachers help all students equally in order to avoid such distinctions.
What Does it do for Students with Special Needs?
Students with special needs are entitled to a full, free, public education just like their peers in regular educational programs and settings. The inclusion classroom provides a setting for these students to interact with their peers of all ability levels, thus most accurately mirroring the real world outside of school. Without inclusion, students in special education programs or students who have IEPs would be isolated from their peers in specific special education classrooms. While this setting often provides them with the individual attention to their special needs that they require, it also labels them as "different" and can carry a stigma with it. This is especially difficult for students who struggle with peer relationships and want to be "just like everybody else." Thus one benefit of inclusion is that it levels the playing field, so to speak, and makes the classroom into a place of learning for all students, regardless of ability or disability.
What Does it do for Students in Regular Education Programs?
Students in regular education classes often do not even realise that they are part of an inclusion setting. Since it would violate confidentiality for them to know about their peers with IEPs, all they know is that they are in a class with other kids who each have unique talents and ability levels. Thus, the inclusion setting provides these students with an opportunity to interact with students who may have different ways of learning or different abilities; again, mimicking the real-world experience for these students as well. One down side to inclusion is that sometimes the teacher has to focus on the students with IEPs at the expense of the other students. While this is never encouraged, sometimes it just happens. IEPs are legal documents that must be followed explicitly; so sometimes it takes more of a teacher's effort to follow these documents and provide for these students than it does to provide for students without IEPs. Advocates for inclusion will argue that providing IEP accommodations in the classroom for one child means providing them for all children, which helps all students in the end. But in reality, often the neediest students get the most attention while the other students are left to fend for themselves.
What are the Effects on the Teacher?
Having two teachers in a classroom can be a blessing and a curse, so to speak. On the one hand, the inclusion classroom with two teachers lowers the teacher-student ratio, which provides more attention for each student. However, this also means that there are two leaders in one setting, and often conflicts can arise if the two teachers have different opinions or teaching styles. Another down side of inclusion is that most regular educators have very little special education training. A regular educator, then, is not always fully equipped to deal with the needs of students in special education. Teaching in an inclusion setting puts extra burden on these teachers, especially since not all inclusion classrooms have two teachers in them. A regular educator left on her own in an inclusion classroom can feel very overwhelmed by the added responsibility of teaching students with such diverse needs.
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