The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

A New Way to Serve Students With Special Needs

on May 7, 2019

Today’s post I wrote and published elsewhere some time ago. I am repeating it today because I’m not finding anything about education in the newspapers I read. If you can suggest any good sources for me now, I would be very grateful.

Several years ago we closed our special resource room for disabled students and set the inmates free.  Although most of those children are still with us, no one remembers just who it was that once inhabited our back ward.  Those children now are in regular classrooms full-time, where they work shoulder to shoulder with regular students, where teachers modify the teaching for their particular needs, and where a specialist comes in to observe students progress and also teach them—along with their regular classmates—in small groups. All this has happened not as a result of the national movement toward “full inclusion schools” but because we, as educators could not tolerate the old pullout and self-contained systems any longer.

What you would have seen if you visited our resource room before we closed it was a relentless dance of students drifting in, filling out workbook pages, getting grades on their daily work records, and drifting out again. Their teacher could not attend to the wide range of needs in the students that had been sent to that room all at once, as was expected.  He felt he had no choice but to use commercial self-instruction programs that required little or no teaching. To both him and me, the principal and outside observers, it was clear that kids weren’t learning much, but at least they were quiet and occupied.

At that time our rural school had about 20 students classified as disabled. Most of them were “learning disabled,” four or five were “emotionally disturbed”, and two or three, “mentally retarded.”  In my opinion, most of those kids might have been more accurately called emotionally battered.  The cruel irony was that our school was battering them even more by isolating them from their regular classmates and filling their days with assignments that were meaningless drudgery.  Worst of all, there was no way out; nobody ever got “unclassified.”

Like most people in and out of education, our teachers and I originally held three misconceptions about special education: (1) the teaching was truly “special”.  (2) It can make handicapped children “whole, and (3)” teaching is the best thing we can give disabled children.

The truth is that good special education teaching is no different from regular teaching. Although the teachers rely more heavily on behavior control than are normally used, their teaching methods are no more magical than those used by teachers in ordinary classrooms.  They plan, struggle, and react; then plan again, trying to capture all children’s attention and hold it until there is a breakthrough of understanding.

Another truth is that all children have learning problems at one time or another. Those who become successful as adults have learned how to work around their deficiencies and emphasize their strengths. Our fate is decided by the number and severity of our learning problems, as balanced against our strength and self-esteem, and the quality of education we get in school and at home.  If lucky, we learn to cope and compensate, but no one is ever cured.

Good teaching is only half the story, the other half is good learning, and that depends more on psychological factors than intellectual ones. Handicapped children need to be persuaded that what they are being taught is worthwhile and they are capable of learning it.  Such beliefs are essential to learning, but hard to come by when you are a student in a resource room.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: