I have to admit that the “Educating Peter” video caught me quite off-guard. Having never had a child with downs syndrome in one of my own classrooms before, I didn’t know what to expect. At first I was a little surprised at how the teacher allowed Peter to do pretty much what he wanted in the classroom. But when he began hitting students and jumping on them, I was horrified. I didn’t understand how the teacher could stay back and allow the students to handle the situation themselves. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to. It concerned me that occasionally the students’ safety was in danger in the classroom with Peter. His violence, although seemingly harmless, created an unsafe atmosphere for the students. I think the teacher should have stepped in more in the situations when things got more physical. By the end of the documentary, however, I realized that the experience had actually been extremely beneficial for all of the students in the classroom, not just Peter. They had learned how to solve problems with each other and how to understand someone who was very different from them. I do agree that the compassion the students gained was worth the first few months of chaos in the classroom.
As a class, we have been discussing why many educators feel that children with special needs should be included in the classroom. Of course I agree that these students deserve the same experience and educational opportunities as all other children, but my concern lies with the teachers, not necessarily the students. The teacher in the documentary was amazing. She managed to keep her wits about her even when the classroom was out of control. But I know that not all teachers would have been able to handle the school year in the same way. If a student with special needs is placed in a classroom with a teacher who cannot appropriately or constructively educate him or her, that student will not benefit from the inclusive classroom education. Whereas a student with special needs who is placed with an experienced, specialized classroom teacher will benefit much more from her strategies and approaches to his or her education.
It may seem like a confusing approach to the situation, but I am basically saying that YES, students with special needs should be included in the classroom, but the teachers in those classrooms should be adequately experienced and prepared to teach to their needs.
I am glad we had the opportunity to watch “Educating Peter” because I think it refreshed my mind and reminded me of why I want to be a teacher.