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Learning to Love Inclusion
by Will Hobart

Spring break and the Pennsylvania Standard State Assessments have passed. April is here and I cannot believe there are just ten weeks left of my first year of teaching. Looking back at my time at Sulzberger, I consider how my opinions about inclusion have evolved.

From the beginning, the concept of inclusion -- including special education children in the regular education curriculum -- frustrated me. I wasnt initially sold on the whole team-teaching approach, with me working with two regular education teachers in their classrooms.

Like many soon-to-be teachers, I had spent the summer before school started pondering questions like, what floor will my classroom be on? How big it will be? How will I arrange the desks and what will I hang on my walls? These thoughts were especially prevalent during Teach For Americas summer training institute. My fellow corps members and I would disagree over things like the class reward system to use with our summer school class. I usually compromised, keeping in mind come fall I would have total control over my own classroom.

When my placement as inclusion was finalized and the school year began, I immediately began to feel the challenges of being a second teaching authority in an established classroom. Developing classroom power was hard in other teachers rooms and knowing exactly what to plan to teach was difficult. How do you teach individual education plan (IEP) objectives related to counting money or help students on the second-grade reading level decode words in classrooms teaching eighth-grade concepts like algebra and assigning chapter books? I struggled to overcome the feeling of not having my own space, my own haven in which to move my students forward at the levels and with the personal care and attention I knew they needed.

Despite my early skepticism and frustrations with inclusion, I have slowly come to realize the importance and success of the model at Sulzberger. Thinking back to a couple of the students I wrote about in earlier entries, I remember hearing how bad Chandler was in sixth grade and how he is a whole new student" since leaving the self-contained special education class. Xavier walked the halls in seventh grade. He was never where he was supposed to," teachers have stated. Its so great you have him staying in the room everyday!" While I wasnt at Sulzberger last year to witness this, seven months with both boys have given me clues to believe every word of the anecdotes.

Now, seven months into the job, I know how much my mindset about inclusion has changed. I remember the feelings of confidence and passion I spoke with to the state auditors about the inclusion program during our audit a couple months ago. I explained everything my co-teachers and I do for the kids in the program. Our organization and efforts were noted as our schools inclusion program was deemed one of the best in the state, a program other schools should use as a model."

Above all of my own personal comforts with inclusion, the most important thing about inclusion I have come to realize is its impact on all of the students in the class. I think back to when I was in elementary school where many students were included" in the general education classroom. I remember the cooperative learning that occurred and I attribute the development of many of my leadership qualities and outright feelings of fairness and equal treatment for all to the early days in elementary school classrooms, where I learned to respect different types of learning strengths and challenges.

I have learned to put my challenges with being a team teacher and feelings of not having my own classroom aside and focus on the social success of inclusion. Every student in the seventh and eighth grade needed to not only master individual objectives as well as the general education objectives, they also needed to learn and master life objectives of coexistence. They needed to learn the values of teamwork and respect of every individual, regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses inside and outside of the classroom. I truly believe an inclusion learning environment is the model classroom setting for this type of life training to occur. And for all it gave to me as a child and for all it can give to the students I teach, I have learned to love inclusion.

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Article by Will Hobart
Education World®
Copyright &copy 2007 Education World

Posted 04/25/2007