I don't know if I've told you this, but I teach Kindergarten. I teach in a have-not Province with a mandate for full-inclusion within the classroom. I also, have a daughter with autism and a neurotypical daughter in the school system. This gives me a particularly unique view from the perspective of a parent of a child with autism, the parent of a typical child and a teacher on the front lines of education today.
When I really think about it, the system is failing me as teacher, my daughter with autism and my neurotypical daughter as well, and here's how:
Let me begin by saying that full inclusion is not only a necessary endeavour, but an absolute right for every individual in the education system.
However, let me also say that full inclusion (meaning each child is given what he/she needs, and NOT that all children are treated equally) is an extremely expensive endeavour. Never in my eleven years in the system have I ever felt, even remotely, fully supported or funded in terms of classroom composition and the needs of my students, by the Province.
Every single day I feel like I am failing my students because I am not trained to offer support outside of the academic day. I am not well enough versed in speech and occupation therapy or even a play-based approach for those on the autism spectrum for little D and little O. I am not sure how to curb aggressive behaviours and maladaptive thoughts in little G and little S. I am not qualified to offer grief counselling for those who have suffered trauma like little M and little A.
On Friday, I held the sweetest little doll on my hip while she gnawed on my shoulder for oral motor regulation. She's non-verbal, so she couldn't tell me what she needed but she could show me. Little M clung to my leg in tears because she was terrified after experiencing a traumatic event in her home the evening before. The curriculum weighs heavy on the shoulders of teachers, so while I made every effort to comfort these two, I had a class of others who were waiting to learn about the letter Y. (Well, except for B, he was tearing pages out of my books). So, I took a deep breath and began to sing: "Y is a consonant, a letter in the alphabet..."
Of course, we have lovely professionals within our system that are well-equipped to work with these students on these particular issues but their wait lists are frustratingly long and their plates are full as well. In the staff room we dream of having these professionals on staff with daily access. "Can you imagine if we had a full time guidance-councillor?" we'll say, "Or a school psychologist on staff?" We allow ourselves to dream for a moment and then the bell rings because we've had our seven minutes to eat lunch.
We work evenings and weekends (and those so-called summer holidays that we do NOT get paid for) to plan and create lessons to support the curriculum because our time at school is largely taken up by meetings with these professionals to gain insight on how to help our students in classrooms that are so busy and diverse in this 21st century.
We plan multiple lessons daily because best practice says one size does NOT fit all. We differentiate and we use the principles of universal design. We use evidence-based approaches and "insert education buzz word here", and more.
This is not your grandfather's classroom.
This is not your father's classroom.
This is not your classroom.
Implementing full inclusion without both fully funding the program in terms of resources and professionals on the front lines, and providing the current and relevant training for all staff for their particular assignment is an absolute travesty.
Implementing a failing program so you can have the moral high-ground and at the same time save money is reprehensible.
Implementing a failing program on the backs of students, teachers and EA's who already receive very little public support is typical.
We need more money, more people and more training.
And most of all, we need to be a priority.
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)