I have been a teacher of Mild to Moderate Specialized Education students in the Public School System for eight years. For four years prior to teaching, I was a Para-Educator in Special Needs classrooms, so for twelve years, I have been educating special needs children. Over the course of those twelve years, I have tried to bend the system into something that truly supports the success of my students and the realization that I’ve ultimately come to is that the system, as it currently stands, will never support the success of my students. The system, as it stands, actually guarantees their academic failure.

I will explain–in my classroom, I educate kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade students at the same time. I have spoken to teachers in other districts who educate grades kindergarten to fifth within one classroom; I once spoke to a teacher who had a span of kindergarten to eighth grade in her classroom, to educate simultaneously. This happens because there are no laws preventing it from happening. Though I know Special Education classroom grade-spans are wide and occur in many districts, I will continue to speak about my own classroom because my classroom is what I know, and it is also representative of what is occurring on a grander scale. With four grade levels in my classroom, I have never been able to give any of my students a complete education. Each grade level has a set of standards, as I’m sure you know, that teachers use as a guideline for what to teach and when and curriculum exists to educate students to those standards. It is impossible for me to teach each of my kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade students all of the standards that have been outlined for them each year, which is a problem because it means they do not have equal access to the knowledge their general peers have access to and it prevents them from achieving their potential on their yearly report cards and standardized tests. Regardless of how you feel about standardized tests, my students are required to take them, without having proper exposure to the material the tests address. Every year, I pull from a pool of four years’ worth of standards (which is over 240) and I split my class into small groups to be taught different things at the same time, with only one of the small groups being led by me, the only credentialed teacher in the room. This means I have to cherry pick what I will teach each group every single day; I’ll never be able to cover it all during the span of a school year and it only allows me to cover the basics, really, because there are so many basics to cover and the basics are the foundational element of their education. This is the survival mode that my class operates in at all times, under the current system. By putting this many grade levels in one class with one teacher, the system is conceding to their education being piecemeal; my students are guaranteed to receive less.

Here are some other unfortunate byproducts of having multiple grade levels in one class— every year, I fight to have access to General Education curriculum for my students. In some years past, I have lost the fight completely and received zero General Ed books. Other years, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a first grade reading program, or some left-over second grade science books, or a couple of mismatched history books and an outdated teacher’s guide, for third grade. The system has never provided my students with a full set of curriculum for each of their grade levels for two reasons:

1.) There are only a few students in each grade level in my class, too small a number to buy a full set of curriculum for

2.) Even if I did have full sets for each grade level, there would be no time for me to teach all lessons to each of my four levels, each year.

And so, my students have never had access to the same books or the same education as the rest of the school. I am not the only teacher who faces these obstacles. I have asked around. The current multi-grade-level system does not coincide with the Department of Defense’s Education Activity vision statement for Special Ed which states that–

        Special educators will work collaboratively with general educators and share the responsibility for ensuring that students with identified disabilities will meet with success.

I cannot conceivably join the teams of four other grade levels each week to plan with each, while also tending to the individual goals of my students within their IEPs and supplementing their education with the life skills and emotional support lessons that are also essential for my students’ success. The DoDEA vision statement also states that–

ALL students can learn when instruction is geared to their strengths and they are given sufficient opportunity to learn.

A teacher without the time and resources to cover the standards for each student in each grade level is not able to give their students sufficient opportunity to learn.

I want to make clear that I am not condemning the leaders of individual school districts. I understand that we are all working within a system that existed before we worked within it. What I am doing is shining a light on a system that is currently discriminating against students with special needs. The laws do not stand up for their education in the way they profess to. As a teacher, I am expected to do everything I can to educate my students in every way possible–and I do–and now, I have developed that same expectation for the system that expects it from me. My students have a right to be educated according to their needs, with their same-aged peers, in a specialized classroom, equipped with complete sets of grade-level curriculum. The rebuttals to this becoming a reality always include the subject of mastery–will they be able to master the curriculum if they have access to it?–I’m not interested in touching on the subject of mastery of curriculum at this stage; mastery is another topic to be addressed later. What I am talking about is access. My students will never even be able to approach mastery without access and opportunity first. Within the current system, mastery is absolutely impossible, and mediocrity is guaranteed.

Students with unique learning needs require more time to absorb each year’s lessons, not less time, and not less access. The system, as it stands, has woven impossible obstacles into its very foundation and it consents to the failure of the students that it claims to support. I am a teacher who cares very deeply about the lives of each and every one of my students and I have never been, nor will I ever be, content with Special Needs students not having equal access to a complete education.

So, now, I’d like to start a conversation with you. I have contacted educational experts and lawyers, local senators and representatives to talk about this and what I’ve discovered is that these people are not easy to get ahold of and when I do get ahold of them, this topic is not on their minds, and doesn’t even seem to be on their radars. But this is a topic that weighs heavily on my mind and my heart and now I want to gauge the impact of this topic on other mild-moderate Special Education teachers and parents of Special Education students, and current or former Special Education students themselves.

How are you affected by multiple grade levels in one single classroom?

How are your children and your students affected by this structure?

Teachers: Do you have trouble getting access to grade-appropriate General Education curriculum for all of your students? Do you have trouble getting access to any General Education curriculum at all?

If you believe that students in Specialized Education classes deserve to have access to a complete education, every year, like their General Education peers, please write to me. Your voices will help me in creating change. Share your experience with me. Let’s all share our experiences with each other. I am ready to take the necessary steps to stand up for these children because these children are magnificent and wonder-full and astoundingly capable. They are full of brilliance and imagination and incredible potential and they deserve to be educated equally, with all the foundations of success that their peers are currently given.

 

Please share this with anybody that this makes you think of

 

Please share this with anybody that you can

 

Our voices matter and I really need to hear yours, right now

 

To contact me on this topic:

Join the Facebook group titled Talking Circle

or

Comment on this video

https://youtu.be/HWJgzcGu2WU//

 

or

Write to me at Anieastonbaker@gmail.com

 

 

Profound thanks,

 

-Ani Baker