Tuesday, May 27, 2008

unintended consequences

mainstreaming is the newest and greatest development in special education since, well, defining kids by how different they are. for non-teachers, it's what happens when we decide a student is different, label them as different but fitting into a group, then stick them in a regular education classroom with 20+ other kids who are different and a little bit strange in their own special ways. it works for some kids. my guess is the intention is to teach everyone a little empathy for differences and give that special child some positive role models on how to behave in a "normal" classroom.

my classroom is far from normal, as i'm sure you've gathered. an unintended consequence of the mainstreaming of these special little guys and gals is the teacher spending more of their time dealing with that student's issues than with the other 20+ students thirsting for attention and knowledge and success. unfairly, that one child will stick in the mind of that teacher for years and years, while the sweet, quiet ones that were model students get lodged in the back of the memory bank where they'll remain until they walk in the door 15 years later, "do you remember me, mr. j?"

were you the one that threw your scissors and crayons when you were frustrated? "no." were you the one that kicked and scratched the substitute when i was absent, at training to learn how to deal with you? "no." oh, i've got it, are you the one who ran from me and the administrators into traffic when you had to sit out because you were a little shit in music class one day? "no." well, i'm sorry, then, i don't remember you. the 90% of the students who don't do these outlandish things, the 90% whose parents raised them to have some semblance of respect for adults and a love of learning, the 90% that you want your own children to be, are the exact same students that disappear from memory first.

another unintended consequence is the exact opposite of the positive influence the class is supposed to have on this child. instead of that occurring, and the troubled one becoming a better student and ultimately citizen for it, the reverse occurs. that child becomes a unwitting negative influence on others in the class. he cries when he can't/won't do his work, others notice that teacher gives attention, and he does less work or leaves the room with another teacher to complete the work. "hey, i like attention. i'll do the same thing."

and that is exactly what is going on right now. one student has picked up on the attention given to this special child because of his outbursts, and has decided to emulate them. tears, pulling hair, yelling at me. i'm done with it. it's over. i can't explain to him that the special one is special because he doesn't see that. he's too young to understand what kind of differences they have; all he knows is that his friend gets more attention when he cries and acts out, and it's not the same negative attention he'd get at home from his parents. guidance counselor wants to "talk it out" with him, see if we can get to the root of the issue. i'll tell you right now: child number one, that gets all the attention because of his issues, should not be mainstreamed. his disruptions have ruined a year of learning for all but a few of my students. i love this kid, he's funny and intelligent, i may even have him in my class next year if i get to move to third grade, but the effect he's had on the other 90% of the class wasn't worth it.


Anonymous said...

My short education career which included a lot of IEP conferences began not too long after the dawn of mainstreaming. There certainly were controversies then about who was elegible & who wasn't. As I recall there was some talk about the special kid being positively influenced by the regular kids but not much talk about other kids being positively influenced by the special kid. The main reason for mainstreaming was that every kid has the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment that he/she can handle. For a lot of kids, the least restrictive environment is a self-contained class. If they can't handle the regular classroom, that becomes more restrictive to their education. The trouble is an awful lot of people have to agree on who is who. Pop

Mr. J said...

least restrictive environment. that's the kicker. i agree that these special kids have that right, but it makes it more restrictive for those other 90%. that's the unintended part of this mainstreaming idea.