Reflections on Educational Equality for Students with Disabilities by Touro TESOL teacher candidate Kevin Mongan

As a Professor for TESOL and Bilingual Education, I focus on different domains during our semester-long journey.  This blog features Touro TESOL teacher candidate Kevin Mongan, a Social Studies Teacher from Sachem Central School District. He is seeking his TESOL Certificate to better assist his English Language Learner population and better himself as an educator. He appreciates the hard work and dedication of the Touro College Faculty and Staff.

This weeks focus are on:

Domain 2 – Culture (TESOL Domains )
Standard: Nature and Role of Culture

Candidates know, understand, and use the major concepts, principles, theories, and
research related to the nature and role of culture in language development and
academic achievement that support individual students’ learning.

Domain 3: Planning, Implementing, and Managing Instruction
Standard: Planning for Standards-Based ESL and Content Instruction
Candidates know, understand, and apply concepts, research, and best practices to
plan classroom instruction in a supportive learning environment for ESOL students.
Candidates serve as effective English-language models, as they plan for multilevel
classrooms with learners from diverse backgrounds using standards-based ESL and
content curriculum.

Reflective Journal:

In “Chapter 13: Educational Equality for Students with Disabilities,” written by Sara C. Bicard and William L. Heward, Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives by James A. Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks, the reader is posed with a question that reaches into the core of every teacher: Am I providing ALL of my students with the best education I can provide for them? The authors present a statement very early in their piece:

The skill differences among most children are relatively small, allowing these children to benefit from the general education program offered by their schools. When the physical, social, and academic skills of children differ to such an extent that typical school curricula or teaching methods are neither appropriate nor effective, however, equitable access to and benefits from educational programs are at stake. (Bicard, p. 315)

Every teacher has had at least one moment where they asked themselves, am I doing enough? When students with disabilities, whether physical, social, or academic, are not being given the proper tools to succeed in their learning environment, they will not succeed. It is up to the classroom teacher, administration, family at home, and the students to make sure that their needs for success are constantly being maintained inside and outside of the classroom.

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The authors explain how students with disabilities are identified and classified, how students with disabilities do not benefit from a single change to the classroom environment, and also, how not all students with disabilities will benefit from the same accommodations. The classification system for students with disabilities is often targeted as a problem than as a system that can lead to solutions. “Some educators believe the classification and labeling of exceptional students serve only to stigmatize and exclude them from the mainstream of educational opportunities” (p. 319). “Others argue that a workable system of classification is necessary to obtain the special education services and programs that are prerequisite to educational equality for exceptional students” (p. 319.) If labels and classifications are not present, how can general education teachers, special education teachers, parents, various professionals whose sole duty is to help the child, communicate common goals for the student? Real issues need real solutions and without having a real comprehension of the task at hand for all parties involved, the student can never benefit from any services provided because there would be no goal to reach or endgame in sight.

The authors then embark on a legislative study on how students with disabilities have been treated in the public education system of the United States. When students with disabilities were brought into public schools they were immediately judged and labeled, often cast aside and not granted access to the public school system. Students were labeled by their teachers as “slow learners” and “disciplinary problems” when they would act out in class, from the frustration of not understanding the material (p.320-321). In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), “the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that education must be available to all children on equal terms and that is unconstitutional to operate segregated schools under the premise that they are separate but equal” (p. 321). For most students and teachers, this case falls under the constructs of African-Americans and the Civil Rights Movement, however, to parents of children with disabilities, this ruling pushed the door wide open for students with disabilities to have the right for the best education they can receive in their local public school district. Laws would be created to further protect the right and liberties of those with disabilities, but under the amendments of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which renamed it the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it “ensure[s] the rights of students with disabilities to a free appropriate public education, including early intervention services, and to provide the necessary supports for oversight for states, districts, schools, and educators to improve the educational results for students with disabilities” (p.322).

The final area of concern for the authors is the inequality and discrimination that students from “culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds” often face in special education. They are often overrepresented or underrepresented. The authors ask educators to focus on three specifics when it comes to students of culturally and linguistically diverse students: the assessment and placement procedures are sensitive to the student’s culture and language, appropriate services are provided to that students with their linguistic and cultural needs in mind, and lastly, that teachers and other professionals who work with the student understand the student’s culture and home values. “The instructional materials that educators use and the methods that they employ while teaching must be responsive to the differing cultural backgrounds of their students” (p. 334). Every professional that interacts with students with disabilities must contribute to the betterment of the students’ lives. It requires work on the professional’s part: not just teaching the curriculum as is, but adapting the curriculum every day to fit the needs of their student’s body. Respectful and sensitive teachers will make the special education setting a more trustworthy and worthwhile environment for students with disabilities.

2) Initial Emotional Response:
I have always found that pieces about students with disabilities always bring out a passion within me as an educator. I believe the root of passion is frustration. I try to provide my students with the best education possible and I know there is nothing I can control about what has happened before they walk through my classroom door, but I always encourage them to be the best students they can be, to always ask for help if they need it, and to truly give it their all. In turn, I will provide them with the best education I can. I know that not all teachers extend so much of themselves into the classroom and into the lives of their students but at least I know I am doing my part. We, as educators, always need to be advocates for our students. If they are struggling, our job is to get down to the root of the problem. Why are they struggling, what can I help them with, where can I access resources to provide them with the help that they need? All of these questions should flow through the mind of a passionate educator when their students struggle. To quote Bicard, “Good teachers must…be responsive to changes (or lack of changes) in individual students’ performance” (p. 334). We always need to be invested in the betterment of the lives of our students. If we are not, why do we do it?

3) Prior Assumption/Opinion
As an educator, I had always assumed that students with disabilities have been slowly but surely been granted the rights to an equal and equitable public education over time. Just African-Americans, women, and Native Americans had to wait for the right to vote, as African-Americans had to wait for equal access to public education, and as Civil Liberties were protected under the law for all Americans, students with disabilities received equal protection under the law as people fought for the rights of their children and their students. In a country where “all men are created equal,” it is often forgotten that most Americans had to wait, fight, and wait a little longer to be fully protected by the legislative body of the U.S. government.

4) Source of Assumption
As a social studies teacher, I discuss the protection of freedoms regularly. But rarely do we discuss the freedoms of the student or the freedoms of the education that we are entitled to as Americans. We have to consistently wait for, fight for, and plead for equality across all facets of American life, but at least we know, that all have access to a free, public education. It is what we do with that access that defines our futures.
5) Assumption Check
According to Bicard and Williams, “Teachers must have the knowledge and skills to recognize and to be instructionally responsive to the diversity their students represent…[the chapter] lays the foundations for teachers to examine educational equity for learners with diverse skills” (p. 316). Most teachers assume they can spot a student’s issues or disabilities from a specific assessment or from simple encounters with the student. Educators understand that students with disabilities have rights, but teachers have the responsibility to make sure that those rights are not only be protected, but they are being fulfilled through every single school day for the betterment of the lives of their students. Educators must continue to challenge the educational hierarchy so that they can provide their students with most fair educational system that can be created. Bicard and Williams said, “All students are alike in that they can benefit from an appropriate education that enables them to do things they were previously unable to do and to do things with greater independence and enjoyment” (p. 317). If educators can provide their students with the skills and necessaries to become as independent of the teacher as possible, lifelong learners can be created and nurtured.

6) Realization (Epiphany):
Educators need to always fight for the rights of their students. If teachers can unite under a common banner of student equity and teacher responsibility for their students, then teachers will work harder for their students. Teachers should not be judged for how their students perform on tests, teachers should be observed and guided toward creating a more positive, nurturing, and safe learning environment for their students. Encourage teachers to get to know their kids, to invite students up to their classrooms to eat lunch, to actively seek out parental involvement rather than avoiding them like the plague. Teachers should not be in the profession for the paycheck. They should be in the profession to foster passion in their subject area, to provoke thought, to provoke future citizenry and change, and to create future leaders of the world. The first thing that teachers need to do, as a whole, is a smile. Too many educators walk through the halls with a look of gloom and dissatisfaction on their faces. Say hello to a student, a colleague, a custodian, a secretary, and if you can’t take the moment to get a word out of your mouth, at least smile.
7) Implication of Future Teaching Practice:
Making sure every single one of our students has access to every resource we can guarantee them. Making sure our culturally and linguistically diverse student populations have the resources they need to succeed, not only within the four walls of the classroom, but in every hallway, every room, and in every step, they take inside and outside of school. Students from diverse backgrounds need to know where to access resources that can assist them and their families whenever they want them. A true teacher makes time for all of their students and makes time to make sure that all of their students are being taken care of. We may not have control over what happens in our students’ lives when they walk out of our classrooms, but we can encourage them to seek assistance, show them where resources are, and be a resource for them whenever they need it. I know that I can become better by making sure all of my students’ needs are being met. I do not keep a good record of the resources my students utilize and the accommodations that my students utilize as well. We often find ourselves separated from the other departments, but just as Bicard said, “our kids,” is becoming and needs to continue becoming the terminology used when describing our student body, if we truly want to watch a positive learning environment take hold.

References
Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. G. (2004). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.