Holiday break is officially over and as the new semester starts, I’m not only planning for my classroom, I’m also preparing to teach a new college course. Last fall was my first endeavor in teaching higher education, and it turned out to be a blast. I taught an introduction to special education course to students preparing to be general education teachers. The course covered the disability categories of IDEA, each disability’s characteristics and basic information about IEPs and the referral process. It was so fun talk about my passion with a group of interested individuals! I definitely had to do some outside study and research to prepare for class but, overall, I felt comfortable with the topics covered in the intro course.
This semester, however, the class I’m teaching is “Advanced Methods for Students with Mild Disabilities.” As with last semester, the students in the class are preparing to be general education teachers. It’s inevitable they’ll have students in their future classrooms with a variety of disabilities: specific learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, etc. The main focus of the course is how to teach these students in the general education setting and focuses on research-based strategies, common accommodations/modifications and valid assessment measures.
As I looked over the information to be covered, I have to admit that I was completely overwhelmed. All I could think was, “I’m a self-contained special education teacher! I don’t have a clue about this stuff!” While my students do attend related arts course in general education, I know very little about inclusion in academic subjects for students with high-incidence disabilities.
After calming myself down and resolving to educate myself so I can educate others, I began to think about my hopes for the course. I feel very strongly about the importance and effectiveness of inclusion for students with disabilities and desperately want these future teachers to have positive outlooks on the issue. My goal is for them to see the students with disabilities in their future classrooms no differently than the other students. I also want them to be confident in their ability to teach their students with disabilities.
With this in mind, one thought I’ve had is to divide the class into groups and assign a hypothetical student with a disability to each group. The “student” will be a member of the hypothetical classroom. I considered allowing the groups to determine the grade, type of classroom and even the name of the “student.” My point is for my students to realize that their future students with disabilities are unique individuals with specific needs, talents and interests. Through course assignments, they would work to develop effective methods for including their “student.”
Here’s where you guys, the faithful Reality 101 readers and fellow bloggers, come in. I really need some guidance on what it’s like in the general education setting for students with high-incidence disabilities who are fully included, and what it’s like for their teachers. What are the main things teachers need to know or be prepared to do? How do I best prepare them to collaborate with special educators or even a co-teacher? What do you think about the hypothetical “student” idea? Would that be a worthwhile exercise?
I look forward to reading your thought-provoking comments and ideas; thanks in advance for helping me out!