From Reflection to Action
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Classroom challenges are intertwined with a teacher’s career from the very beginning and continuing throughout the whole process of professional development. Some of them have been a problem for the teachers during several decades or more while others are newly emerging. One of the challenges that teachers are facing more frequently nowadays is integration of students with learning difficulties into the classroom. The approaches and models for special education have mushroomed recently but with all the examples from different countries and research being done in various contexts there is still little concluding evidence as to the most successful practice. Analyzing the available research one can come to a conclusion that the most optimal approach to special education is cooperation among a wide range of actors, including teachers, special educators, families, communities, and the students themselves.
It is discomforting to realize that despite of the long history of disabilities there is yet so much to be done on the way to truly inclusive education. In this situation even teachers in the developed countries face immense difficulties when it comes to real classroom setting. The World Report on Disability mentions that there are currently around 95 million children of fourteen years or younger who live with a disability of some sort, which is approximately 5.1% of all children worldwide (World Health Organization, 2011). One can see that the scope of the problem is huge while the solutions to it are scarce. When the teacher is put is this kind of situation the natural response is to compare the results from different countries and try to find working solutions.
As the evidence suggests, one of the main problems in special needs education is the lack of proper training. This naturally translates into poor classroom activities and management. For instance, the study conducted by McCray and McHatton in 2011 indicates that pre-service teachers studying to be general educators are not comfortable with having special needs children in their classroom. However, after a course in inclusive education their feelings improve because of factual information received in the course (McCray & McHatton, 2011). The similar problems can also be found in the countries where education in general requires a lot of improvement. For example, the countries of Latin America face a problem where educators lack proper qualifications (Vaillant, 2011). Therefore, one can conclude that when it comes to special education the challenges that the teachers experience are more or less universal regardless of economic state of the country.
When searching for possible solutions, it is important to stress out that the teacher training and education should be at the forefront. As McCray and McHatton state, “Successful teaching and learning in the inclusive classroom is largely predicated on a teacher’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions, all of which can be undermined by a belief system that is inconsistent with an inclusive paradigm” (2011). That is why every student majoring in educational science should at least have the opportunity to take course dealing with special needs. A similar recommendation, in fact, is given in the World Report on Disability, which encourages training courses to provide adequate information concerning disability (World Health Organization, 2011). These recommendations are very important for everyday classroom activities. No matter how advanced the model for implementing special needs education in a particular school is the teacher still has the most of responsibility.
The person who is in direct contact with students has to be equipped with factual knowledge as well as personal characteristics to make the classroom a place for equal opportunities where each child can flourish and reveal their potential. In Latin America there have been some good general initiatives that encourage innovative approach of teachers towards lesson planning. For example, in Peru and Mexico educators who “make a difference for their students” and display innovation and commitment to the teaching practice are rewarded (Vaillant, 2011). Similar initiatives in the special education field would be a good chance for teachers to come up with creative solutions for their problems in real classrooms rather than employ a top-down approach in this area.
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Another crucial element in resolving the issue of inclusion is the cooperation among teachers. Simonsen et. al. (2010) discuss a rather interesting school-wide approach to inclusion. They contend that the so-called three-tier approach possesses the necessary flexibility to allow all the students to be educated within the general school (Simonsen et. al., 2010). From a teacher’s standpoint this system seems rather troublesome to implement but the end result may be well worth the trouble. As one important aspect it proposes cooperation of general and special educators, with the latter providing training sessions for their colleagues. This pooling of resources may help the school to face a lot of problems with inclusion more effectively and efficiently. To take just one example, the general teacher will be more knowledgeable about special needs and as a result more able to address minor issues in the classroom without disrupting the teaching process and calling the special educator. Another beneficial idea in this model is the abundance of reports and monitoring, which is good for tracking the progress of students and creating the database that the teachers can access in future.
The current problem of inclusion that many teachers face in their classrooms can be somewhat alleviated by encouraging wider cooperation and investing in the teacher education and training. Reflecting upon this question it becomes clear that each teacher should rigorously assess the existing situation in her/his classroom and seek cooperation with peers, students, parents, and school administration in order to provide the best possible learning climate for the students.
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