This year was my daughter’s last year in elementary school. A milestone I have been dreading since she began kindergarten because it means middle school is here. Everything changes in her education plan because classes in middle school are much different from elementary — so we are rethinking how to do inclusion

But this is also a milestone that is meant to be celebrated.

At the end of the school year, my daughter’s school had a “fun run” and an outdoor dance. The band teacher is a Zumba instructor, so she led the kids and parents in some fun dances from a stage. Other students also got the opportunity to lead dances. It really was a fun event (the dancing, not the running). 

As we watched fifth-graders come up, my daughter wanted to do a dance from stage — same as her friends. As it turns out, students who wanted to participate were supposed to sign up, and my daughter did not sign up. I found about this after we had been waiting for over 30 minutes for her to get on stage — it was a hot, hot day and I did not understand why the teacher had not said that to us from the beginning, when we first approached her.

When I explained to the teacher that my daughter did not know she had to sign up, the teacher was quick to tell me “all kids knew about it.” There was no email or note sent home, but she told them during music class. 

Me: Did you personally talk to her to make sure she understood?

Teacher: I told all the students.

Me: That is not what I am asking. Did you personally talk to her to make sure she understood what was happening?

Teacher: All students knew about it.

Me: Are you saying that you did not make sure that the kids who have IEPs and need extra supports understood what the process was and you just assumed they got it?

Teacher: (pointed at the child who was dancing on stage) He has an IEP and he didn’t need me to tell him.

Me: I’m sorry, do you have other students with Down syndrome and an intellectual disability? You did everything you could to make sure my daughter knew about this? 

At this point the teacher was frustrated and said, “Fine, she can go next.”

That worked for me. 

I also want to point out the teacher had absolutely no right in telling me about the other child with an IEP. I had no idea that particular child had one, nor was it my business to know. It was quite unprofessional and from my perspective, a cop out for not spending extra time (perhaps 5 minutes?) supporting my child in a way she needs.

But this brought up a much greater question, how many times did my child sit through a class unaware of all instructions given? How much did she miss? And more important, how often did teachers fail to communicate effectively with her? How often was she completely ignored? 

Allowing her in a classroom is not the same as inclusion. Not even close. Inclusion means you do everything you can to make sure every single student can participate. And you cannot participate if you do not understand or know what is happening.

Author and educator, Kathie Wetherbee, often says, “Good teaching for kids with disabilities is plain good teaching.” These are the wisest words I have ever heard when it comes to teaching. Period.

What if teachers focused their lesson plans on teaching kids with disabilities? How would they approach their lessons? Would they use more visuals? More hands-on? More examples and creative ways to teach a concept, idea or scientific principle? I think they would. And the reality is that every single child would be enriched and benefit from that way of teaching.

This may have been a bleep we found out too late regarding the music teacher, but it is something we will most definitely be keeping in mind as we enter the middle school years.

I am done with my child “allowed” in the classroom if a teacher is not willing to recognize that my daughter has educational needs addressed by her IEP, and that sometimes it will mean taking time to personally communicate directions, or make sure she understands what is happening with a sign up or extra curricular opportunities. Or homework!

Inclusion means valuing every student, and believing they have a place in the classroom — because they do. 

Inclusion means plain good teaching.

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