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Co-Teaching: Special/General Education-Mixed Classrooms
The education world has recently spent much time discussing proposed solutions to the issue of how special education students are integrated into general education classrooms. Does it help the students? Does it hurt the teachers? How do you include parents into the mix? Weiss' article discusses the concept of co-teaching a general education classroom, including and educating special and general education students together.
As more parents are educated and introduced to the funding and services available to their children with disabilities and begin to take advantage of these programs, methods of general inclusion will become necessary. It is federal law for special education students to spend time in mainstream classes, so this issue has never been more relevant. "In the 1988/1989 school year, 30% of the students receiving special education services were in a special education setting for approximately 1/5 or less of their school day. During the 1997/1998 school year, this amount increased to 46.6%" (Weiss 1). These numbers are still increasing as more students are integrated into the mainstream classroom. Studies have shown that special education students learn quicker, gaining back as much as a year of lost time after being integrated for just a year (Weiss 6). Opponents to co-teaching are asking the question "Does co-teaching really improve special education performance?" Or does co-teaching create more obstacles than opportunities for teachers?
The issue is that two teachers, a general education teacher and a special education teacher, can teach side by side in the classroom, working together to "deliver substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space" (Weiss 1) can be successful in their endeavor. The study brought up the following common problems with co-teaching: content understanding, scheduling pressures, acceptance by general educators, and the skills of the special needs students (Weiss 9). Other issues were interaction with the state-required curriculum and parents. Many of the problems were overcome by the special education teacher actively involving herself into the general education process. The more instruction the special education teacher was giving, the less likely she was to not feeling a part of the process (obviously), frustration/burnout, being the main disciplinarian in the room, and altogether not showing up to the general education class (Weiss 6).
No direct discussion was brought up regarding the effect on families; however, understanding that parents of children with disabilities often feel out of the loop and aren't given opportunities to understand all that surrounds the education of their child, teachers who are actively co-teaching would allow for much collaboration with the parents because they are actively collaborating. Teachers in the co-teaching environment reported they felt much more "flexibility in curriculum, they were better able to assess student progress, and they could review information from other classes that students were having difficulty assimilating" (Weiss 8). When the special education teacher was not in the main instructor role, she was able to reinforce the student's behavior, compliance, and participation during the instruction and give "feedback about assignment completion and student responses" (Weiss 10). All these issues being worked out with the aid of two directly-involved teachers mean much to parents of students in special education, parents of mainstreamed students who don't often get the individualized focus they deserve and need.
The professional side of this issue is where most of the problems arose regarding the collaboration of teachers and administrators. Many special education teachers were unable to step into content matter areas and instruct the class as a whole, leaving the bulk of the instruction load to the general education teacher and the bulk of the discipline to the special education teacher. Many co-teaching situations encountered scheduling and planning time conflicts, in which the demanding schedule of a special education teacher didn't allow meeting times. Administrators felt unclear about how co-teaching between the special and general education teachers "was to be used to deliver 'specially designed instruction'" (Weiss 12). However, when implemented effectively, the special educator's role included more monitoring of instruction and offered an additional person to answer the questions of the students.
In theory, co-teaching special education students integrated into a general education classroom might work. Offering increased monitoring of students, cross-curricular development, and awareness about students with disabilities within the mainstream students seemed to raise the academic level of learning in the special education students. On the other hand, "as administrators struggle to get and keep special educators in the classroom, consideration must be given to the amount of resources, time, and training needed to make co-teaching 'work'" (Weiss 12). Will this lead to better instruction, higher overall job satisfaction, and additional teacher specialized training or to scattered focus, lowered drive among teachers, and undeveloped teachers? This is really the main question surrounding the issue. Success of the students and satisfaction of the parents, teachers, and administration will drive this issue.
Weiss, Margaret P and John Wills Lloyd. "Congruence between roles and actions of secondary special educators in co-taught and special education settings." Journal of Special Education : Summer 2002. 2/29/04. <http://www.findarticles.com/cf_0/m0HDF/2_36/89926491/p1/article.jhtml>.
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