There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes the moral high ground in terms of their implementation of extreme full-inclusion when it’s failing students, staff, and their families at an alarming rate.
American friends often ask me if my autistic daughter is mainstreamed or in a school for children with autism. I always answer the same thing: In my province we have full-inclusion. This means that all children regardless of diagnosis or needs are placed within the regular classroom. (If I stopped here, it would sound ideal, as if my Province is on the right side of history in terms of educating ‘exceptional children’, as if my Province is progressive and exemplary in its treatment of individuals with exceptionalities, as they say. and then I continue: This typically results in chaos within the classroom.
Today’s classroom is so very different than any classroom you might remember. Unless you work in the system, you might be shocked to spend even an afternoon in one of today’s classroom. (The below description is not my particular classroom composition but this particular classroom does exist, and it exists right under your nose. In fact, maybe your child spends her days in this classroom.
Imagine an average of 25 children per class.
- One teacher and one educational assistant (if you’re lucky)
- 4 confirmed diagnoses of ADHD 3 Unconfirmed
- 2 Confirmed diagnoses of autism (1 severe non-verbal resulting in need for support 100% of the time, and 1 with debilitating anxiety and hyperlexia resulting in frequent crying and outbursts )
- 1 Undiagnosed mental illness resulting in anger, hitting, biting, spitting, swearing, resulting in need for support 100% of the time.
- 7 ‘typical’ children
- 1 Child who has recently experienced serious childhood trauma
- 2 Children with various learning disabilities (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia)
- 2 Gifted children (Is that even the term we use anymore, it doesn’t matter though, it’s not like we have time to get to them)
- 1 Medically Fragile child
We are all in the same room, in a (to borrow a term) resource-starved situation. There are multiple IEP, SEP and violent incident reports to be managed. The children must be able to function within the classroom with as little disruption as possible in order to maintain the integrity of the learning. (If you’re a teacher in this system you can’t help but smile a little at this thought).
In what utopian system is there a classroom without almost constant disruption? Do you think I exaggerate? Come see for yourself. Let me break down a ten minute period for you, because to detail an entire day would be far too much for either of us.
You leave for work around 7:00am. You are already agitated because you’ve had another argument with your spouse about how much you spend to maintain your classroom. You find the drive-thru that serves your morning drink of choice and you drive on to work.
You make nervous comments to your colleagues, upon arrival, about potential difficulties you may face today. Will he blow? Will she refuse to stand for O’Canada? Will he cry upon being asked to remove his boots? Will she hit, bite, spit before the recess bell? You laugh because that’s how you cope.
You hear the bell. You are already standing outside your classroom waiting for your class to come into the building. Your heart is warm because here they come, but nervous, too, because here they come.
Will little Mary learn a new curse word today? She is so innocent. Surely, she’ll never forget the day her classmate bit her teacher while screaming obscenities. How will you make time to work with your non-verbal little doll today? She is acquiring language at such an exciting rate. It would be amazing to spend some ‘floor time’ with her. She has yet to see the SLP, PT or OT because they are so overbooked themselves, they can barely manage.
Will little Ben be bitten for reaching for another’s child’s play dough? He won’t be able to cope with that today. He’s tired and he looks as if he didn’t sleep well and he certainly didn’t have breakfast this morning. You rush to find him some fruit.
The Math lesson was postponed again because the safe word was called at 9:25 am and the entire class was evacuated as one overwhelmed little guy, tried to take the room apart in anger.
The bell rings because you are supposed to send them out for recess. You are supposed to pee and grab a snack. Ha! You stand defending yourself from the sweetest, brown-eyed, rage-filled little person you’ve ever met. You wish you could scoop him up and hug him and tell him everything will be okay, but this is more than you can handle. You are not trained for this and you are terrified that you are making it worse. He can’t manage right now and your job is to help him manage. You are failing him. You are failing all the other children in your class who’ve been sent to the library for their own safety.
The curriculum is calling. When will you teach them number sense? 5 Star Writing? Your lesson plan sits on your desk. Your intentions were good. Didn’t you just spend your weekend laminating the math centres you bought on TeachersPayTeachers.com? Didn’t you just argue with your husband about the cost of the lesson, and the laminator sheets.
I have to stop there. To go on would indicate that no learning of any kind could ever happen in the classrooms of today. Of course, it does. We teach the children in small groups (we call it flexible grouping) but we really mean it gives us a chance to focus on some serious learning issues when we can. I don’t vent here because I don’t love to teach. I adore it. It’s all I could ever imagine I could do. I’m just desperately frenzied in my need for help within the classroom, within all classrooms.
Our children deserve better. And so do we.