Archived Letter – 305

Dear Editor, Report card time is approaching and along with reports, teachers are working on IEPs (individual education plans) for their students with learning difficulties. Twenty years ago they would be completed by the special education teacher, in charge of a group of ten to twelve students, with the assistance of rotary subject teachers. I am referring to grade 7 and 8, and Junior High School for grades 7, 8 and 9. These classes were small to allow for greater teacher/student contact and to allow the teacher to program to the individuals specific needs in English, math, history and geography. These students were integrated into the larger student population for the rest of their subjects. An additional teacher worked with the other disabled students able to work in a regular classroom with some extra help. Today, all of these students are integrated into the regular class for all of their subjects and it is up to the classroom teacher to meet the needs of all 25 to 32 students in the classroom. In one of my grade 8 math classes I had students working at the grade 9 level to the grade 3 level. The argument is that it is better for their self esteem to be integrated. I would argue that this actually lends to the student having less confidence. A student with a disability is not stupid, they just acquire information in a different way and at a different pace. They know that they learn differently and can see that they are not doing the same work as the rest of the class. I would argue that staying in a class where the concepts are beyond their present ability is not going to generate positive feelings about learning. Ive seen students attempt to hide their work from their peers because they know that its at a different ability level. The solution is for these students to receive extra help outside the classroom for the subjects they struggle in, yet resource teacher time has been decreasing steadily over the years. The number of students on IEPs has increased as well as the paper trail to justify the need for resource time, once again reducing the time available to individual students. One resource teacher may now be responsible for assistance to 30 to 40 individuals across all subjects. Students need support, but the support team in my opinion is understaffed. You may feel this doesnt apply to your child, but what teacher student ratio would you like for your student? Lets say the class is on the small side with 25 students. The teacher/student ratio is one to 25. Teachers recognize that an identified student requires twice as much teacher time/resource to be successful. What If 5 of these students have special needs, the ratio now becomes 1:30. How much individual time is the teacher able to provide? Everyone in the classroom deserves to be there and be successful, but a teacher is still just one person. I know how frustrated I felt at not being able to bring every child to their top potential; there just wasnt enough of me to go around. So what can I do? I can write! I can raise awareness of how great the need is, because every child is worthwhile! Ask specific questions; how many IEP students does the school have, does your childs class have, and how many resource teachers are assigned to assist these students? The needs to be met in todays classroom have increased. Teachers are trying, but as a retired teacher and a parent of a learning disabled student, I feel assistance to reach every child has decreased. Education is expensive, but the price of not helping each student reach their potential is even more expensive. Kathy Johnson

Kathy Johnson