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Why does my child have two teachers?

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Parent-teacher night is an excellent opportunity to increase confidence in your skills as a teacher, forge a strong connection with the most important people in your students’ lives, and communicate clear goals and expectations for your students now that you know them well academically and socially.  The parents of students in inclusion classes come in expecting to hear these ideas articulated, but many are also curious, and sometimes extremely concerned, about why their child has two teachers.

    Collaborative team teaching is a relatively recent arrival to the educational setting menu, and it is a choice that parents in many schools do not actively make.  Rather, they find out from their child on the first day of school that the student has “two teachers.”  While parents of students on the special education side of CTT tend to be aware of the setting as their consent was required at an IEP meeting, the parents of general education students may not have had experience with collaboratively team-taught classes before and may express concerns.  With preparation, you and your co-teacher can set their minds at ease, alleviate concerns, and show off what a great job you are doing with their child. 
 

Parent-teacher conferences can be a great time to broaden understanding and acceptance of inclusion as an educational setting, and it can also be a time for you and your co-teacher to continue to establish trust and respect for each other as working professionals.  However, because it’s not just “you and the kids,” taking some time to prepare for this event is critical to reap the greatest benefit.  Scholastic has an excellent collection of articles on parent-teacher conferences.  Once you’ve seen what I have to say about how to prepare for successful parent conferences, get more tips and ideas by viewing their Parent-Teacher Conferences collection.

    In reflecting on my practice for parent conferences, I realized that three main categories of concerns emerge.  Today, I’m going to share with you some of the common questions parents ask about inclusion and provide you with some sample responses that can help you think about how to field these questions yourself on Open School Night.  I will also share some Do’s and Don’ts for conducting parent conferences with your co-teacher.   Check back early next week for some general conference preparation tips as well as parent letters, a reflection survey you can use, and some suggestions for how to handle difficult topics of conversation that come up during conferences.

These are some common questions parents ask about inclusion:

1. Why does my child have two teachers?

Possible response: We are an inclusion class, which means that we teach collaboratively to improve the academic achievement of general education and special education students who have been placed in this class.  We work together to plan lessons, evaluate and assess students, differentiate instruction, and provide enrichment.

2. Why was my student placed into this class?

Every school places general education students into inclusion differently-find out how students were selected for your class by speaking to the IEP teacher, the special education coordinator, or your supervisor.  Students are often placed into the general education side of inclusion to give them the additional boost and benefit of two teachers without the need for an IEP.  In some schools, children are randomly sent to classes on the next grade level and were thus placed in the inclusion class.  In other schools, high-achieving children are placed in an inclusion class to model appropriate social behaviors and increase academic achievement of lower-functioning students, and in still other schools, high achievers are placed in inclusion classes so they receive the benefit of increased differentiation, more small-group time, and more individualized teacher attention to “push” and maximize their abilities.

3. Does this mean that my child is “special ed”?

An inclusion class consists of general-education and special-needs students.  It is also possible for a child who receives related services (speech, counseling, occupational or physical therapy) to be placed on the general education side of a CTT class.  Your student’s placement in this class does not alter his or her educational classification at all… special education students remain classified as special education, and general education students remain general education.

4. What kinds of needs are there in this class?

This will depend on your particular situation.  I have had special education students in my inclusion classes with mild learning disabilities and I have had students with severe emotional difficulties, as well as students with autism, mental retardation, and other specific classifications.  Remember that when you answer this question, you must respect the confidentiality of all students in the classroom.  I try to be clear but general, saying something like “All students have individual needs, both social and emotional.  This setting gives us the opportunity to address student needs more effectively by reducing the student to teacher ratio.”  Try to avoid naming specific conditions or giving personally identifiable information about your special-needs students.

5. But won’t being in class with special education students hurt my general education child’s performance?

NO!  Inclusion has been shown to benefit both special education and general education students, who learn from the strengths of two teachers instead of just one.  Additionally, more small-group time and individual attention for each student can result in an excellent class culture and an opportunity to build trust and respect based on personal relationships.  Plus, all students benefit from seeing a professional, respectful, and friendly relationship between their teachers modeled on a daily basis! 

6. So what exactly do you DO with two teachers in the room?

This is a great opportunity to discuss some of the co-teaching models you and your partner are implementing.  Consider having samples of student work done during station teaching, or demonstrating a schedule with grouping and flow-of-the-day so parents can see evidence of effective collaboration between you and your co-teacher. 

7. Which teacher is the head teacher?

Neither!  We work together to plan lessons, deliver instruction, assess the students, and manage the class.  This allows students to benefit from both of our strengths as teachers, as well as giving them an opportunity to adapt to dealing with different teaching styles.

8. What are some benefits for my student?

Children benefit from the friendships, experience of difference in a tolerant and trusting environment, enhanced differentiation, and more individual time with the teacher.

For more information specifically on the benefits of inclusion and information about collaborative team teaching, check out the Kids Together website.  This inclusion-specific site can answer additional questions parents have on inclusion as well as provide links and resources that stress the benefits of this setting for all students. 

Be aware that there is a significant body of literature expressing the disadvantages of inclusion readily available to parents on the internet.  For these informed parents, be prepared to explain the specific benefits of inclusion in YOUR classroom:  give examples of projects, activities, or lessons you teach collaboratively that clearly profit the students.

Do’s and Don’ts for Conferences

DO talk to your co-teacher in advance about what you are going to say about each childDsc01374_3

DON’T think you can have successful conferences without preparation

DO plan in advance who will handle which aspects of the conference

DON’T use conferences as an opportunity for a power play between you and your co-teacher

DO show respect and professionalism toward your partner during the conference

DON’T let any tension that might exist between you and your co-teacher show through during the conference.  Those of us who do teach collaboratively know that it is never 100% smooth sailing, but parent conferences are not the time to let these tensions come between you… it will just look unprofessional. 

Preparing for conferences can definitely pay off in terms of increased commitment and support from parents.  Inclusion, which may be new to some parents, does require explanation.  Anticipating parent questions can help you craft very specific and helpful answers, alleviating concerns and building parents' confidence in your classroom.  Please post and share any additional tips or suggestions for communicating with parents of students with general and special needs, and check back early next week for general preparation tips for parent conferencing and communication!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Special Education & Inclusion Classrooms are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.