Saturday, August 26, 2006

Special Ed. and a word I hate

I hate the word retarded. It's something that instantly makes my lips press together and my muscles tense. If one of my students bumps his or her toe and the word shit tumbles out of their mouth, I'm 100% likely to ignore it. But woe to the person in my classroom who calls someone else a retard or describes something or someone as retarded, whether the speaker be adult or child.

Seriously, is it so fucking much to ask that a blameless segment of our population be treated with some dignity?

Anyway, I have at least three special education students in my classroom. I may have another whose family refuses to sign off on it, which puts me in a frustrating position as an educator. But special education has changed a whole lot since I was in elementary school in the 80s. I remember special ed as being kids who had significant, sweeping developmental difficulties. Down's kids, for example. Nowadays, special ed encompasses a lot of issues. A student can be both special education and gifted/talented. I have one boy in my classroom who sort of encapsulates the new version of special ed, at least for me. I'll call him Enrique. Enrique is a hyperactive kid (ADD diagnosis) with hands in constant motion and eyes that refuse to look directly at me. He's a complete smart ass who is entirely too cynical and negative for a ten year old. Maybe that's why I like him so much. Everything I introduce is greeted with a groan and a "but I hate that..." from him. Yet during classroom discussions, his hand never goes down. He wants to answer every question and when I call on him, he does so thoroughly and insightfully. He comes up with observations I consider very mature even for a student several grades above him. Then I saw his journal. Enrique writes on an approximately kindergarten to 1st grade level. His handwriting is the scrawl of a much younger child, as if he is drawing a representation of the letters instead of just writing them. It all runs together, with no real breaks between sentences and no punctuation to be seen. All I get are a list of modifications to be made (preferential seating, allow use of highlighter markers during reading, shortened assignments, more time for completion, etc). I don't know what the actual issue is.

Enrique is just one example of what special ed means now. It's not so easy anymore. To make it even more complicated, I have two sides tugging at me over what to do with my special ed students. On one hand, I have my principal saying that we want full inclusion. That means keeping special ed students in the classroom with non-special ed students for every subject. But then I have the resource teacher pulling them out, or trying to, for every subject. And the principal doesn't seem to have a problem with that. Honestly, I have no idea what to do with them. Enrique's English is excellent. He doesn't even have a trace of an accent. I'm not sure why he's in the bilingual class. But my other two special ed students are extremely limited in English proficiency. The resource teacher speaks some Spanish, but isn't bilingual. We pay a lot of lip service to the concept of "No Child Left Behind," but I have the terrible feeling that two of my students are going to be left in the dust, no matter what I do. I can't teach them if they keep being pulled out of my classroom. But, even though they keep getting yanked over to resource, I'm still held accountable for their testing.

And that leads me to a bit of terror about the testing thing. There is a shitload of testing kids have to take, to the point where I think we spend about a month of combined days of what could be instructional time taking standardized tests. Since my kids are 4th graders, they now have to take their tests in the same level of higher, academic English that native speakers do. They are graded by the same standards. From what I understand, the special education students are also required to be tested, the only difference is that they receive a test with fewer questions. I have been told that some of the tests don't count towards our school ratings (and my personal accountability), but that some do. I can't seem to get a straight answer about which is which, though. So, in a nutshell, I have limited English, special education students who, despite being severely under their grade levels in reading and writing, are being held to the same standards as regular education students. And, despite them being constantly pulled out of my class, I am responsible and accountable for their scores.

Maybe I should start taking steps to prevent ulcers right away.

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