Most people who enter the teaching profession have a profound desire to make a difference in the lives of children. They are prepared to spend time and energy, as well as their own money, to plan for and deliver engaging lessons to their students. Many teachers, however, are not quite as ready for students with diverse learning abilities and styles, including students with identified special needs.
Students in the Least Restrictive Environment
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, originally enacted in 1990, was written to guarantee that all children have access to a free and appropriate education. One of the elements of this law provides that these educational services be delivered in what is called the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). This requirement is described as follows:
To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
Studies have shown that students with special needs benefit from learning with their non-disabled friends. According to the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, students in inclusive classrooms make greater academic progress and have more positive experiences after high school. They are absent less often and have fewer disciplinary referrals.
Teaching in an Inclusive Classroom
The benefits for students who learn in an inclusive classroom are clear. In fact, non-disabled students also benefit from relationships with students with special needs, including what they learn by peer teaching and collaborative group work.
But, according to education reporter and editor Jackie Mader, “Experts say the problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general-education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs.”
Teachers, even those successfully prepared in a general education college program, find lesson planning and instruction in the inclusive classroom difficult. Working with students who are functioning well-below grade level in reading and math as well as grade level and “gifted” students can seem impossible, especially since all students are expected to make significant progress as determined by high-stakes statewide testing.
According to special education veteran teacher Kate Rosenzweig, “While we are taught that children learn differently, we are not instructed on how to teach to these different needs and often because of added stress such as time restraints, school and state standards, and lack of needed support, teachers are not only hesitant to implement individualized instruction, but they do not even know how to do so.”
How to Prepare for the Inclusive Classroom
There are many opportunities for teachers in general education to develop skills and knowledge about teaching students with special needs. Seminars, professional development presentations, and single- or multi-day conferences can provide valuable insight into the characteristics and learning needs of students who have been identified with a learning, physical or emotional disability.
But the most thorough, comprehensive way to prepare for students with special needs in your inclusive classroom is to earn a graduate degree in special education. The Master of Education in Special Education degree from Mississippi College is designed for educators with a passion for helping students with exceptional needs who want to learn the strategies and materials to use in planning and implementing individualized programs for these students.
As a general education teacher with a master’s degree in special education, you will be able to develop instruction goals and plan effective experiences for diverse learners in your classroom.
Learn more about the Mississippi College Master of Education in Special Education online.