My Special Ed Soapbox

I often feel that Special Education is an island all its own. I know, from an outsider’s perspective, it must seem like we (Special Ed Teachers) just walk around spouting acronyms and holding random meetings and begging for accommodations for our students.

I haven’t been able to figure out why this somewhat-separation occurs quite yet. I’m not sure if it’s the case-by-case basis that is Special Education, or if it’s the legality issues behind different expectations, or if it’s simply still not a fully-inclusive world that we’re living in, but there’s definitely a separation.

Regardless, a couple of things are constantly on my mind and driving my day-to-day that I tend to get on my soapbox about. They’re on my mind tonight, so here I go:

PART ONE:

Students, or just people in general, with disabilities DID NOT CHOOSE to be a student with a disability.

Did you get to pick your skin color? Did you get to pick your parents? These are the same as being a student with a disability. It’s something that he or she was born with, didn’t get a choice in, and is living day to day with.

IT IS NOT A CHOICE. Don’t treat students like it is one.

PART TWO:

All. Means. All.

The legislation behind Special Education is pretty extensive, but there are a couple laws that are most influential, in my opinion:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 said that students with disabilities must be exposed to and given the opportunity to experience the same curriculum and schooling opportunities as their general education peers. 1973, people.

In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed, which included six different things that every student with a disability must receive:

  1. A Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
  2. Nondiscriminatory evaluation and identification
  3. Individualized Education Programs (IEP)
  4. Education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  5. Procedural Due Process
  6. Parental and student participation

So, since at least 1975, we have been requiring, and expecting, schools to include all students in every classroom. This is not a new concept. If there are 25 students in your classroom, they are ALL your students, and should all be treated as that.

PART THREE:

I hate the word “disability”. It comes with such a negative connotation. Having a disability is not a punishment, but more often, a blessing. Some of my favorite people in the world are people with disabilities. We can all learn the most from people who view or experience the world completely differently than we do, but we have to be open to that.

PART FOUR:

Have high expectations for all students.

Are you noticing a pattern?

Please, please, please, don’t flag a student with a disability as a student who cannot perform at the same level as a student without one.

Instead, set students up for success. Be flexible. Approach each student as a different learner who needs access to the curriculum in his or her own way.

Better yet, let the kids teach you.