Two days after I began teaching an inclusion class for the first time, the World Trade Towers fell.
We had a west facing classroom. We could see the plumes of smoke from the window, We pulled the shades. We assured the students the world would not end that day, and they're parents would be there when they returned home, but when they left for lunch, we hugged each other after each desperate phone call to our own loved ones ended with good news. We had known each other for two days.
I worked in an elementary school then, in a district (when they existed) that was pretty progressive. Although it was part of the New York School City System, because geographic districts operated independently in those days, the leadership of that district often tried out new trends earlier than other places in NYC. Mayoral control put an end to that
I’ve had a long history with inclusion, the practice of mixing general education students with students with IEPs in the same class . A friend looked at the explanation, when we first learned about it and predicted we would end our careers as overpaid teacher assistants. When I began as an inclusion teacher, our district put much thought into how the program would work, how would the teachers be trained, how would the physical space be arranged, how would the parents be informed. Teachers were interviewed to make sure they’re styles and personalities were compatible. Co-teaching is like a marriage, we were told, my brand new co-teacher leaned close, and said, “I’m divorced.”
But we were a good marriage, the class worked. All the students in the class, those with IEPs and those without met standards and were promoted. The reviewers (they've had so many names and incarnations since that time) said it was the only classroom where they saw adequate differentiated instruction. We worked so well as a team that we were immediately were broken up for the next year. And although Integrated Co-teaching is now widespread throughout the City schools, I’ve never again had an inclusion class where any any pre-thought or consideration went into how it would work.
I have had a series of co-teachers that were weak. One, riddled by constant pain which she treated with a series of prescription medicines, often told the students things like, the Ancient Egyptians had electricity in the pyramids, (she saw that on the Discovery Channel) and Rodin was Renaissance artist (she knew that for a fact and the World Book Encyclopedia must have put a typo in for his birth date). Sadly, the year after I left the school she walked in front of a car during a preparation period and was killed. No teacher evaluation program needed, the Darwin Awards sufficed.
That was possibly the nadir in my co-teaching career.
Possibly- last year I had a teacher I called an asshole to his face. Luckily I waited a few nano-seconds after the students left. It was a Friday afternoon and I was able to storm out right after.
And with all this wonderful experience, Monday I was sent to a workshop on teaching inclusion classes.
As soon as I beat down the bad attitude demon on my shoulder –it was useful, and when the presenter announced at the end of the day that he would observe us the following morning, I snapped into action and rewrote the lesson plan to match some of the techniques he preached. The sad thing is that I agreed with him, we can co teach far better than we do. But in a school based on traditional instruction, where each methodology is broken into 22 distinct, measurable skills, and evaluations are linked to exams that appear way beyond the capacity of our learners, who wants to try anything new?
Although, I had planned the day carefully to make a quick exit at the bell, I stayed late to create a new lesson, immediately deleting the Smart Notebook file and keeping friends from Texas waiting for me at restaurant for over a half hour.
I rewrote the Smart Notebook presentation after dinner, (evidence for sure that some learners, must have a quiet space to be successful), went over the course of the lesson with my co-teacher during our usual co-planning time, the car ride to school. (Thank you traffic on the Grand Central Service road, we worked out who would teach what, while we waited three lights to get past the traffic light on Parsons). And taught our lesson.
The observer liked it. We didn't quite have enough time to have the students work in groups enough to master the concept, but he didn't come back the next day to notice.
My co-teacher did. She went back to traditional teaching. I walked around helping people, feeling like a tremendously overpaid teacher assistant.