Friday Two Cents: Integration Is Not Good For Everyone



This week I had the privilege to work in a kindergarten class with a wonderful bunch of students. Yet there was one student with exceptional needs (EN) in the class that kept me on my toes. This was not the first time that I have worked with students with EN and the student was a good student except for a few instances where I had to stop them from running out of the classroom or pushing another student. However, it did bring up a debate that I had with many other educators about the integration of students with EN into mainstream classrooms.

There is a movement in main if not all school boards to integrate students with EN into a regular classroom. The argument is that they need to be part of the general student population, which makes sense. However, I have been in about a dozen different kindergarten classrooms with these students and it has been a very difficult experience for everyone involved.

Many of these students with EN have behavioural issues, some violent. I have been on the receiving end of students hitting, punching, yelling, screaming, and biting me. In every case the teacher and I had to deal with the student with no other help from the board. The more difficult situations involve these students harming other students. I have seen students with EN pull hair, jump on top and tackle, punch, hit, bit and scratch other students with no provocation.

This behaviour also has psychological issues on the other students as well. There was one student at one school whom, whenever they went out into the playground would hide behind some trees. I saw them and asked why were they there. They told me that they were hiding from this one student with EN because they were afraid that they might hurt them again. When I heard this junior kindergarten student say this my heart sank. Here I am a teacher who’s responsibility it is to provide a healthy, caring and safe environment for the students and I cannot help this student feel safe because the EN student might hurt them. That was when I decided that integration of EN students in a regular classroom environment not matter what is not the best policy.

Mind you, there have been some classrooms I have been in that had EN students and they were integrating well into the routine of the class. Yet those instances are few and far between. In the 12 different classrooms with students with EN, I could safely say that there were 3 that had integrated well. That still leaves 9 that had difficulties. The issue, that many teachers and educators have told me, is that there is no support for these students.

Many believe that integrating is great and it is the new doctrine for the school boards, however I for one think that it is not a good idea. For some time I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself for fear of reprisal, but a colleague of mine told me something that changed my position. She said “If you disagree with a situation you should stand up and make your case for it. If people do not challenge the system or status quo, nothing will have the opportunity to change for the better.” Ever since then I have been vocal when asked about the integration of students with exceptional needs.

It is a good idea but you need to have the support available to help the student and teacher/educator. Simply placing a student in a classroom and expecting the teachers to magically help these students without any support is a fantasy. School boards and the government need to seriously look at how they fund, run and organize the integration of students with exceptional needs. Until that happens everyone will continue to suffer, both the students and families with EN and those without.


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