We’ve been pondering this topic for a while. And to be fair, it’s taken Renay a really long time to get onboard. Actually, it took someone reminding Renay the role of inclusive education last week to get her to realize we needed to really talk about this.
Many people who stay working in education at some point had a light turn on in their minds that education was important to them personally. Whether the art of schooling was easy for the person or hard for that person, at some point that person valued something they could get from education. There are many things that can be taken away from education: social understanding, knowledge, place in the bigger fabric of living, mutual understanding, or emotional safety. But these are adult reasons. Reasons that exist beyond reflection, that happened because of a turning point in one’s life. And that cannot be ignored, and that cannot be made lesser. Those are amazing reasons to keep educating one’s self.
On the flip side, as an adult working in education, one finds themselves wondering about “Kids these days.” It is not just a socio-economic experience, though schools that have more students who are not able to “have” are perceived to more likely to struggle—kids and schools alike. The kids don’t share the value of coming to school. There are so many more interesting things in the world or so many more ways to escape from anything labeled as ‘unpleasant’ by the student- even if that escape is not as global or as community-minded as someone else could appreciate.
The rule of thumb then for adults is to develop a professional relationship, to draw the student in and connect. And we aren’t belittling these connections. The genuine adult-at-school-to-student connections alone have been tracked in studies in education that students want to do better.
But like all things in nature, bigger than the parts we can control: the habits that we have formed make it so much nicer to be what we used to be than the skills we have to work at to become proficient at any age. This comes in many forms. The student cannot focus to remember to get papers returned from home. That look from a classmate known to draw the student off-task is shared. That extra piece of paper the student draws on. The pen that when disassembled can shoot a pen cartridge in a perfect parabola twenty feet in diameter.
Then comes that little annoying voice in the adult head: if you [student] would just stop and realize that every time you’d do that [off-task behavior], you’d fall back on that path you were on before things got messy. And many students with disabilities are swayed greatly by being off task. Being off task, causing disruptions, and various other non-academic behaviors are safe. It means that a student won’t be caught misreading when they don’t have their glasses that they don’t want to wear. It means that when they don’t understand a math concept they will be rude beyond measure to get adults to stay away.
Wouldn’t life be better for that student in a space without that distraction? And a sideline utopia can build up in one’s mind briefly. Students enter their own space and can figure things out academically in their own way and on their own time. But that’s not the reality that exists. And the problems might not be solved still of getting the water available for the horse to drink.
Life might be better for that student, but they probably won’t make as much progress. It is all too easy to stay off task when it’s one on one without being held accountable. Oh, you magically worked for thirty continuous minutes? Have a break for the last twenty. The reality of equality: peers in general education classes are not on task 100% of the time. In a room of over twenty students, there are many things educators cannot control, the primary being keeping all the students single-mindedly thinking about the tasks at hand, recalling facts to connect. Renay reminded us of our favorite Math advisor who literally stops speaking on one of his classes daily only to have the kids do something randomly distracting before bringing them back. And that the ‘distraction’ is never planned. Students don’t know if their class or when the distraction will come. The point of this as a strategy is to pull the thoughts away from focus and to test the short term recall—something many students with disabilities struggle with.
Inclusive education and inclusive academics are not supposed to be about keeping up. It’s about looking for the stuff that matters at the moment. Sometimes it’s about making a student happy. And sometimes it’s about relearning the social skills that matter.
Inclusive education and inclusive academics are not supposed to be about keeping up. It’s about looking for the stuff that matters at the moment.ParaEducate
Yes: it is quite frustrating to be forced to wait it out and watch a student make non-advisable choices. Especially when the adult supporting the student values the benefits of academic education. But to give you some perspective, Renay was talking with a co-worker with a student. And the student was unhappy that they had homework. Renay turned to the student and told the student, “That is right. You actually never have to do any homework. And you can get the grade you earn for not doing your homework. You skipped last night’s homework, and that is okay, but I need to do my job and give you the opportunity to try and do that missing homework.”
We cannot tell you yet what the student chose to do (or not chose). But especially for those students who are all capable of approaching grade-level work, or even masking grade-level work, the reminder that the student does not have to be perfect in class, that the student can have consequences like their peers for similar behavior.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.