From ’03-‘06, I was a special education teacher in Philadelphia as part of Teach for America. I taught children with mild to moderate special needs (primarily learning disabilities, attention deficits, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral problems) in grades 2 - 8 in all academic subjects. I saw a lot of things and learned a lot...especially the art of patience.
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Yes, it was highly recommended to me and I joined, being a naive first-year teacher. After more time in the field and more time to think about it, I would not choose to join a union again. I value the rights of children more than I value my right to have an extra 30 minutes for lunch, an extra free period each week, the right to keep my job even if I'm horrendous at it (through tenure), and the right to refuse to attend certain meetings which may be planned for before school, after school, or during my lunch. These are the types of things I have seen teacher unions spending most of their time arguing about and I feel the pettiness between adults gets in the way of educating children.
Most were extremely appreciative and saw how hard I was working to help their child. It can be difficult to cultivate positive relationships with parents who are very overworked or disengaged in their child's education. On the converse, it can also be difficult to cultivate positive relationships with parents who are overly attentive and aggressively involved in their child's education. The key, as I've seen it, is to focus as much as possible on the positives and call home only when there is an emergency - Parents lose interest in supporting you quickly if you are calling them every day to tell them the laundry list of things their child is doing wrong - and to remind them whenever possible that your foremost interest is working WITH them to help their child find success and enjoyment in school.
This is an excellent question. Research, as well as my personal experience, has shown that early intervention in any academic or behavioral problem is critical in efforts to effectively correct the problem or identify appropriate accommodations to ameliorate the skill areas where the student is having difficulty. Schools are starting to catch onto this idea and it is becoming much more common for students to be given a whole battery of assessments very early in their school careers. It is also more common for school districts to offer early intervention services to students in their district boundaries who are younger than Kindergarten age - and referrals for such services come from a parent or pediatrician who notice a problem in some area related to early academics (such as a speech impediment, motor skill delay, or behavioral issue). Tests of early literacy, which would help to identify dyslexia, are now administered to students in many school districts - moreso in suburban/middle and high-income communities. This trend is likely to continue and hopefully, before long, students in all communities will receive such assessments and problems such as dyslexia will be identified much earlier.
This is a complicated issue, but in my experience it is pretty rare. Students who require special education will often continue to benefit from the specialized instruction and accommodations they're receiving on an on-going basis so school teams are almost de-incentivized to reintegrate students to full-time general education. After you identify services that will help a child be successful academically and enjoy school, it can be extremely difficult to decide how and when to remove those services. I think it is certainly more common for students with mild special needs (such as mild ADHD, specific learning disability) to be able to function well in a general education classroom with appropriate accommodations and/or an excellent teacher who does a great job of differentiating instruction to meet all students' needs. That said, most students with special needs, in my experience, do continue to have some type of specialized instruction or accommodations throughout the rest of their school life. It is more common for services to be scaled back in intensity, frequency, or setting rather than be removed entirely. Given all things considered, though, this isn't necessarily such a bad thing - if it were my child I might prefer the setting and services that help my child enjoy school and find success rather than pushing them into general education at all cost.
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So, so much. Looking back I wish I had known half of what I know now after attending my graduate training program in school psychology. Most teachers know very little, as I did, about how to meet students' social-emotional needs. Children who have difficult or turbulent home lives need stability and consistency, as well as unconditional love, from their teachers. Also, growing up in a high-income, suburban community with very little racial diversity, I learned a lot about myself and my ignorance of racial issues underlying educational inequalities in our nation once I had taught in inner city Philadelphia and received training through Teach for America. Addressing social justice issues in education has become a focus of my graduate preparation and I plan to continue this focus as I work with students as a school psychologist.
No, I support inclusion of students with special needs in the general education setting as much as possible. They benefit from watching and emulating typical peers and their non-disabled peers benefit from being around children with academic and social-emotional needs different from their own. The real world isn't segregated by IQ or ability, so educational settings shouldn't be either. Special education law states that children with special needs MUST be educated to the maximum extent appropriate alongside their non-disabled peers. However, the vagueness of the phrase "maximum extent appropriate" creates problems as parents and schools work together to decide the best placement for a child with special needs. Some school personnel take advantage of parents who don't know their rights and fail to uphold the intent of the legal mandate to include children in the least restrictive educational setting possible.
Personally, no. In fact, I have been known to use the word in an inappropriate context on a number of occasions. I know it's not okay and there are many people who it does offend greatly, so I continue to work to delete it from my vocabulary. I probably won't be the person to correct others I overhear using the word, though.
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