“I hear that some kids in your 1st-grade class have special needs,” my sister (a retired teacher) told my daughter. My daughter stared back in confusion. When you’re in 1st grade, a “special need” isn’t autism or attention-deficit disorder. A “special need” means you have to go to the bathroom really bad.
In fact, as many as 40 percent of the kids in my daughter’s class do have special needs, meaning they have a learning problem that demands extra attention. But my daughter is unaware of such things. Judging from the “How was your day?” feedback I get, her 1st-grade class is rather typical, except now and then a kid throws a crayon at the teacher.
If I were a less involved parent, I might likewise be ignorant about the large number of special-needs kids in my daughter’s class. The only tangible evidence that anything’s different is the presence of two teachers instead of one. But I happen to know she’s in what New York’s Department of Education now calls an ICT class, for “integrated co-teaching.” (Many still use the term CTT, for “collaborative team teaching.”)
The acronyms have changed, but the idea is familiar: The school mixes kids who have special needs, including learning disabilities, with kids who don’t (or whose special needs have yet to be identified). The classroom is staffed with two full-time teachers (one of whom is certified to teach special education) and often one or more aides. The curriculum and standards are the same as other classes, but there’s a lower teacher-student ratio because a higher percentage of kids need extra help. In NYC’s large elementary schools, most students will be enrolled in an ICT class as least once between kindergarten and fifth grade.
So far, our ICT experience has been positive. What was unsettling is that my daughter’s school did nothing to prepare us for the fact that she would be in an ICT class. I understand young kids have privacy rights, and few parents want their child’s academic hurdles to be made public, so there’s only so much a school can reveal. Yet when your daughter tells you a classmate threw a loud fit, you might be better able to respond in a positive, helpful way if you had some good advice.
My quiet, obedient daughter sees disruptive kids as troublesome rule-breakers. I want her to realize such kids simply need extra help, or maybe a good role model, and that well-behaved kids can provide both. Someone somewhere knows the words I can use to convey this message to a 1st-grader.
But the DOE ranks my need for guidance way down the list, far behind properly educating kids who require extra help. And DOE is probably right. A city bureaucracy can dole out only so much sympathy, and it’s fitting that most of it go to children who face significant challenges in school. As for my kid, her special needs are reading, writing and math, and in her ICT class she’s getting a welcome dose of extra attention.