Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Inclusion confusion

I had another one of those Child Study Team meetings yesterday where afterward, I thought of all the things I should have said and realized all the things that were wrong. How come that never happens when I can easily do something about it?

It wasn't even a combative meeting. No IEP to be decided, no services to be argued over. In fact, I had called the meeting to discuss a service we had and I wasn't sure I wanted: an individual instructional aide for my daughter. When I agreed to this aide, last year at IEP time, it was only for language arts, only to avoid resource room, and with the understanding that other kids in need of aide would be in the same class.

So of course, when the aide finally arrived, two months into the school year, she was assigned to the class for the entire day, and for no one but my girl. I am a firm believer that there is such a thing as too much help, and this is what it looks like.

She wasn't doing terrible with no help at all. But she wasn't doing great, either. I'm willing to admit there's room for improvement. There's that line, though -- the line between helping children succeed by improving their skills so they can, and helping children succeed by giving them the answers. I'm not sure this aide knows where that line is.

I'm not sure I know where that line is, either. Certainly I help her too much on her homework. It's ever so hard, as she flounders around with no hope of finding the answer, to say, "Here! Here it is! Right here! Copy this down." But I'm not an education professional. Surely there are better tactics than that.

Yet has anybody taught the aide what that might be? The problem with inclusion in our school district is that although it has been embraced quickly and thorougly, it has not been planned well. Nobody knows how to do it. They're learning as they go along, at the expense of the very students they're trying to serve. I have seen a great deal of blundering over the past few years, and it's inexplicable to me -- surely there are materials available to professionals on how to go about this. Why does no one seem to have them?

So I'll tell them what I want. They'll do what I say, whether it's the right thing or not. I will be in charge of this service, even though I am probably the least qualified to do so. I remember what it was like when I thought everybody who worked with my children knew what they were doing. It was so comforting and peaceful. My daughter didn't learn, but I never had to worry about hard homework or bad grades.

We won't have so many bad grades this year as we did before the aide came. I hope that will be because my girl is learning better. I fear it will be because the aide is spoon-feeding her answers. I wish I had told her to be less helpful with multiple-choice tests and math problems and more helpful with writing assignments, where my daughter truly has no clue how to proceed. I don't mind bad grades if they're a true reflection of my child's understanding. 75 percent may be a D in these parts, but learning three-quarters of anything is a terrific achievement for her. More than anything, I want her to learn tactics that will keep her from being clueless. The specific information being taught -- not so important.

I just wish I knew that the educators knew just exactly how to do that.

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