I took a leap of faith when I accepted a job at my children's local elementary school this year.
Last year, when my youngest daughter started at this school she was in fifth grade. She has been receiving special education services since kindergarten and has been mostly mainstreamed. The inclusion was good for her knowledge in content areas such as social studies and science, but it was not good for her ability to read.
Now, please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say next. It isn't a matter of me being anti-inclusion. In fact, I want my child to feel included as much as the next parent, but I also want her to know how to read. And she wasn't making progress.
At the beginning of fifth grade, she was decoding text at a first grade level.
This was bad.
And when I say bad, I don't mean disappointing or mildly distressing. I mean really, really bad. Like my child won't be able to read the menu at restaurants bad. Or fill out a job application. Or read street signs. Or sing karaoke. Or do any basic functional thing that requires following written directions.
That would be crippling for her. It would stunt her growth. And I found the prospect terrifying!
But the fifth grade special education teacher at her new school saw that my daughter had only thirty minutes of reading remediation daily written into her IEP. Thirty minutes a day for a child who is four full years behind her typically developing peers in reading!
That is utter nonsense.
Well... to make a long story short, this teacher did what needed to be done to help my daughter learn to read. She pulled her out of the general education classroom for several hours a week despite push back from superiors who wanted full inclusion. At home I was reading picture books with her, then drilling flashcards, then reading chapter books for a little longer every night.
At school her instruction was systematic and phonics based. But at home her instruction was constructivist, relying primarily on memorization and repeated exposure to text. I have heard educators debate the merits of each approach in an attempt to decide which is better for emerging readers. I'm not going to debate the matter here.
Needless to say, both approaches were necessary for my daughter to learn to read.
This year she is in sixth grade. She is no longer behind her peers and is an avid reader. The terror I once felt that she'd grow to be an illiterate adult is gone, but I'm well aware of how easy it would have been for her to fall through the cracks.
And I'm grateful every day to that special education teacher.