Last year was a difficult year in my daughter’s fourth grade class. S was placed in a co-taught classroom. The co-taught classroom is a relatively new model in our district. The way it works is there are two teachers- one general ed and one special ed. The class is comprised of typically developing students plus a small cohort of children on IEPs. The two teachers work together to oversee the education of all the kids.
It’s an innovative model, and I’ve heard stories of co-taught classrooms working very well. Last year’s co-taught was not one of those classrooms.
There were a variety of factors at play that caused the demise of the fourth grade co-taught classroom. The mix of kids did not work. There were kids in the class who just did not function well together. There was behavior that escalated, and this group of kids just ramped each other up.
The whole situation was disturbing and sad. Ever since her first day of preschool, S was always enthusiastic to go to school. While there are always bumps in the road, S usually comes out of the building at the end of the day with something positive to report. Not so last year.
I did hear from S about various interventions that were taking place in her classroom. A visit from the school psychologist, followed by a visit from the district social worker. We heard from the principal that a special educator from the Elementary Stabilization Program was working with the teachers to try and turn things around. It didn’t appear to be having any effect.
Finally, on a Wednesday afternoon at the beginning of March, we received word from the principal that their efforts to stabilize the class in its current form had not been successful. A plan was being put in place to split the class in two. Each class would have ten students, and two teachers (general ed + special ed). This plan would be discussed in person at a parent meeting on Friday morning.
The day of the parent meeting arrived. It was horrible. Parents were understandably anxious and apprehensive. They were also angry. Our kids had been through a lot. The communication that had come from school was spotty, and didn’t give a full picture of how the breakdown in the class occurred, what interventions had been tried, and how the decision to split the class had been made. There also was no indication that serious planning was going to take place to make sure that the same issues did not recur in fifth grade. I completely understood where the anger and trepidation were coming from, because I was feeling a lot of it myself.
However, what happened in that parent meeting (as well as the three that followed) was devastating. There were many valid concerns that were raised. However, there was also an enormous amount of misinformation and false assumptions that were very hard to hear.
- I don’t understand why you don’t just pull a kid out of the classroom and suspend him if he’s causing trouble.
- It seems like our school doesn’t have the resources, and our teachers don’t have the skills, to educate kids with special needs.
- Why do we use Responsive Classroom? It seems like it is the opposite of what our kids need.
- Why do we even have these kids with special needs in our schools, anyway? Wouldn’t they be better served in their own school?
- Why does the school district continue to invest in educating these kids? Is there any evidence that it makes a difference?
Sitting through these meetings was heartbreaking. These parents weren’t pointing the finger at my kid, as he wasn’t in this particular class. However, it was very easy for me to imagine if G had been in a class that went off the rails, that he would be among the students acting out. I couldn’t imagine walking into a meeting where people were talking about my son like that.