It usually surprises Renay when she walks into an established district with a veteran teaching staff who have no clue that what they provide is an inclusive education for students with disabilities and who may also be learning a second language. The part that has been hard to discern though is if the teachers had no idea that was what it was called or that it was an option. For newer teachers, it’s a hit or miss depending on their education if they understand what inclusion is and potentially could mean for a variety of students.
The variety of inclusive settings is a contributing factor for many, parents, educators, and students alike. Then coupled with an IEP that looks specifically at one student’s needs, that level of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) also looks very different.
So some basics as it comes with the territory with paraeducators and general educators.
- Not all inclusive settings require paraeducators. There are actually a few scenarios that work without paraeducators. Some students may not need one. (This is dramatically different than a student that does not want one.) Some schools use a co-teaching model. It works wonderfully but the entire staff must be onboard and special education teachers need to have enough flexible time to do things like IEP meetings, preparing academic modifications, and behavior interventions for students. Additionally, the special education teacher needs to have a solid background in a variety of subjects and be comfortable not just with scaffolding but also with the actual academic end for students who are beyond learning foundations.
- The number of stories Renay could fill that start with, “I had a student with [insert disability] years ago and they weren’t like this at all…” While there are many collective similarities between specific disabilities, how they manifest in an individual looks very different for every individual. Hence the saying, “If you’ve met one person with a disability, you’ve met one person with a disability.”
- Sometimes when a paraeducator brings or comes into a class with a student with a disability, they may not know a whole bunch about that student either. They may have a loose idea of expectations, they may even have a goal in mind, but that can either be raised or lowered as the year progresses. It’s okay, have faith, the paraeducators that stay are really good at long term problem solving and look at ways to help get a student, or group of students, to where they need to be socially, academically, and behaviorally.
- Ignoring the student that doesn’t fit your model of inclusion isn’t helping anyone. There are planned ignoring of specific behaviors, but finding that the student is unable to control noises or finds they need a lot more movement during class, is a lot harder, especially in the first few weeks of the year. Certainly, disruptive behaviors are disruptive.
- Sometimes your conversation and directives may be too much for a student to process. Extra words like ‘Do you understand me?’ can be as disruptive as trying to get a student back on task. It can be especially hard when students who are already behind don’t use every second of their time in class, but not all students do. Many students, with and without disabilities, disengage from class discussions or activities because they have a thought or something is more important than what is going on in class at the exact moment. For students with significant disabilities, the world can potentially be a disability. This gets more complex as a student ages and enters adolescence.
- Every day is a new day. And for some students, particularly those who act out as their defense to save face in the prospect of something that is too hard, this is the hardest to remember. Renay doesn’t advocate putting on a fake smile or pitying the student who is struggling. Every day have a plan. And let the student know, even a student who may not always understand every word that they are welcome as a learner in the room. And smile when they ask to leave. Check in and see what they are coloring in class, or if they are flipping through a book on the topic that is being studied.
When a student is in the room, it is our student. And we won’t always have the answers, but we will try to figure this out together. And by the end of the year, it just may have been an experience you’ll know and be ready for next year.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? 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 weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.