As a member of the 40 percent — that is, the parent of a child on the special education side of an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, I’ve often wondered what the other “half” (the 60 percent) thinks about these inclusion classes.
For those not in the know, ICT classes (formerly known as CTT, Collaborative Team Teaching) have a 40 to 60 percent ratio of children with special needs. These classes have a general education teacher and a special education teacher who jointly provide instruction to both students with and without disabilities (the 40 percent have IEPs, Individualized Education Program). I checked in with some 60 percenters in Brooklyn to find out what things look like from their vantage point.
When Lynn Melnick found out last school year that her daughter was being placed in the kindergarten inclusion class at PS 58, she was thrilled. Having just come from a pre-k class of eight kids with three teachers, Lynn feared that a class of 25 kids with only a single teacher would be too big an adjustment for her daughter.
As luck would have it, her daughter is in the ICT class again this year and is a two-time classmate with my son at PS 58, also known as The Carroll School.
Having two teachers is the selling point, if you will, to parents of children who come in from the general education side.
Megan Lappin, mom to a Gen-Ed kindergartner in an ICT class at PS 10 says, “I feel like I won the lottery. Having two teachers is great, especially when the kids are so young.”
Sandra Millerstein (name changed by request), whose son was in a general education kindergarten class at a local school last year–the feared 25-students-and-one-teacher variety–says her son noticed a difference right away when he was placed in a first-grade ICT class this year.
“I asked him the first week, ‘Do you notice the difference?’ and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t have to wait around so long for help.’ The other kids didn’t notice any difference but he did right away,” Millerstein said. “Last year I think he was always helped last because he didn’t have any big problems; he just had to wait. This year he gets way more attention.”
Liza Bristol (name changed by request), whose daughter was in a second-grade ICT class last year at a different Brooklyn school, feels the two teachers are necessary to deal with the inherent pandemonium she sees in these classes.
“I hate to say it, but there’s lots of chaos in those kinds of classes,” Bristol said. “There’s a little bit of a control issue so having two teachers helped a lot.”
According to Bristol, “One of the problems with ICT is you put all of the kids with behavior problems in one place and what happens is, they feed off each other. If you’re around rowdy kids, your kid is going to be rowdy. So if someone’s going to shout, ‘It smells like popcorn!’ in the middle of rug time, then someone else is going to think it’s funny and they’re going to have to one-up them.”
One of the big problems with ICT classes is the perception of them.
“ICT is hard because it is labeled [among parents] as behavioral issues and I think the reason for that is the ones who have behavioral issues really do stand out, unfortunately,” Bristol explains. “I don’t know why, but I guess it’s the one who screams loudest.”
Melnick doesn’t necessarily disagree with her.
“I think a lot of people have a leftover idea of what the ‘special class’ was at their school growing up, and they are afraid of the stigma, but in my experience these past two years, the IEP kids are among the brightest in the class and most of the behavioral problems come from the gen-ed side,” Melnick said.
Bronwen O’Keefe agrees.
“I think most of the kids who were ‘problem kids’ were not the IEP kids,” she says, referring to last year’s kindergarten ICT class at PS 58, where her daughter was a gen-ed student. “I think the reason ICT is looked at either not favorably or with some cause for concern is lack of education. People don’t understand what it is.”
But that lack of understanding doesn’t always come from the parents. Sometimes it’s the teachers who don’t quite know what to make of this classroom model.
A few weeks into the school year Millerstein found out that all of the gen-ed students were handpicked to be in the class because they were considered to be more empathetic and relatively high performers academically.
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