I remember precisely the moment when my mainstream classroom became an inclusive one. And it caused a great deal of anguish. I was informed by Additional Learning Support that one of my students would be bringing along a Learning Support Assistant due to the fact that he (the student) had no hands. I was outraged – how was I supposed to teach ICT to someone with no hands? I ranted on to the ALS manager but she told me I ought to see how the student progressed before making judgments. Angry and confused about the consequences to my nice neat lesson plan, I argued and begged but she did not capitulate. Who was I judging, me or the student? As it transpired, the student was an Afghanistan refugee who was the victim of torture. His hands (and some of his toes) had been removed as a consequence of being the nephew of a local policeman in his native country.
When I met him I soon realised that the only help he needed from the LSA was to complete forms, help him on with his jacket and organise refreshments. He held a pen between his two wrist stumps and tapped away on the keyboard. He was my best student that year.
That was a very humbling experience for me, but it rode high alongside my next anxious inclusive moment; I had a severely autistic student and a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome both enrolled in the same class. No matter how much I pleaded with the ALS manager to move them elsewhere, they arrived on day 1 along with their LSA support. We had some tricky moments but I learned a heck of a lot – very quickly - during that year. Not only that I was guilty of being extremely judgmental, but that this was borne from fear of the unknown. I was totally unprepared and untrained to manage the needs of the learners in a real inclusive classroom.
As the other college staff were almost as clueless as I was, the onus was on me to learn how to manage some non-mainstream behaviours and disabilities in my mainstream classrooms. Or leave the profession.
That was in 1998. Since then I’ve been on a fantastic voyage of discovery about the science behind some of the ‘conditions’. I’ve practised and (in some cases) perfected my pedagogical approaches, learnt about ‘causes and triggers’ from individual students, and along the way my fear has all but disappeared.
I wouldn’t say that I embrace the thought of a classroom full of learners with ADHD and ASC as I know that it’s a real challenge. But I am thrilled to know that I have all the tools to make reasonable adjustment for them, and that they will have a better learning experience for it.
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