Team-teaching model supports inclusion

Lately I’ve been hearing more about the team-teaching model as a way of supporting the inclusion of students with disabilities in the regular classroom. It’s an idea that has been around for a while, but seems to be gaining broader acceptance. Basically a classroom is staffed with two teachers: a general education teacher and a special education teacher, and the two support each other in meeting the needs of all their students, a number of whom might be students with disabilities.

In theory, everyone benefits from such a model: the teachers who get additional support, the students with disabilities who are exposed to the curriculum, expectations and social learning opportunities in a general education classroom , and the typical peers who learn acceptance and tolerance from being around children who are different (many also benefit from the specialized instructional strategies in every special educator’s toolbox).  In practice, inclusion has sometimes been expensive and frustrating to implement due to a lack of willingness to truly invest in the training and attitude shifts that must go along with an inclusive classroom environment.

Thanks to my favorite email news roundup, the CEC SmartBrief (CEC stands for the Council for Exceptional Children), I saw this story that originally appeared in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, about a successful team-teaching model the Knoxville, Tenn. school district is putting in place:

“I believe that parents sometimes have the opinion that their child is going to be held back because another child with a disability is in the classroom. But the fact is their child will have a lot more opportunities because there’s another teacher in the room,” says Marsha Partin, a Sequoyah Elementary School teacher’s aide. “I don’t just work with this child. I’m able to work with others who need help.”

According to the article, the 56,000-student district opened 15 co-teaching rooms in middle and high schools last year, and plans to open eight more this year. The push came after the district added a goal to expand inclusion opportunities for students with disabilities in its latest strategic plan.  I am ashamed to say that San Francisco has no such goal in its own strategic plan,  but administrators know that the current number of non-inclusive special education classrooms is unsustainable. This year we had little choice but to use the lion’s share of our special education stimulus money to open 12 new self-contained classrooms, due to the number of students needing placements.

Please understand that when I say “needing placements” I don’t mean that I think self-contained classrooms are necessarily the best placements, but the simple reality is that we had students whose current Individual Education Plans called for a specific classroom, and we would be out of compliance with those IEPs if we did not offer the classrooms specified. But we paid for those classrooms with one-time money, and so I firmly belive that this year we must completely re-think our approach to educating students with disabilities, and our over-reliance on expensive self-contained classrooms.  We have  a new Executive Director of Special Education and a new Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) Director (this position has in the past focused more on compliance than specific programs, but the new team may organize responsibilities differently) and I do plan to ask for a report on their reform plans in the coming weeks.

Representatives from UESF and I both think the team-teaching approach has merit as a pilot approach, assuming, as always, that we can provide teachers with the appropriate support for new responsibilities.

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