“Are you sure that sitting at the front of the class won’t help?” “Are you sure it’s not that you just aren’t paying attention?” “Why can’t you just get a translator?”
Since my diagnosis as hard-of-hearing at 14, I have heard these types of questions from many of the adults in my life. These questions make me cringe; I always get the feeling that the asker thinks they know more about my disability than I do. While I understand those who ask these questions mean well, they reflect ignorance surrounding the issues of not only the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, but the disabled community as a whole. All of these questions have made me wonder: What type of training and how much of it do educators receive to support disabled students?
The answer? Very little. Current teacher training does not seem to be servicing the students that need the most support. As of 2007, the average general education teacher only takes about 1.5 courses with a major focus on inclusion or special education. Additionally, university and job site training does little to prepare teachers for the situations they might face teaching students with disabilities.
Looking back, I have experienced problems dealing with educators because of the lack of training they receive. Mostly, it is the occasional snarky comment on how I am just not paying attention in class or that I should change my behavior to make my own life easier — believe me, if I could I would. I hope if educators are trained better on disability education, there might be a realization that these comments are insensitive and misguided.
It is natural to wonder why a general education teacher would need special education training in the first place. In the past, general education teachers did not need this training, as they only dealt with “traditional” students. Today, however, there is a push to include special education students in general education classrooms.
Studies show this push for inclusion has a variety of benefits for a special needs student. A 2017 article from The Atlantic explains, “Students with disabilities who are placed in general-education classrooms get more instructional time, have fewer absences, and have better post-secondary outcomes.” For students who have social or behavioral issues, being incorporated in a general education classroom helps them develop greater social skills. Because of the benefits that disabled students receive, schools should continue to integrate special education students into their general education classrooms. Consequently, teachers should receive training that will allow them to cater to the needs of a variety of students.
At the University of Michigan, the School of Education does not mention an explicit special education requirement for their elementary or secondary education programs. Most university education programs do not emphasize training on the needs of special education students, and the University of Michigan is no exception — but we need to set an example for other universities to follow. The University needs to update its requirements, especially as schools move to integrate special education students and students with disabilities into its classrooms.
Training programs will better prepare educators for the adaptability necessary to teach disabled students. It is obvious each student’s needs are different, regardless of whether they are a disabled student or not. For myself, I am very independent and do not need much assistance. As I said earlier, I mostly deal with insensitive questions or people who refuse to modify their speaking so I can understand them.
However, some students with physical, behavioral or emotional disabilities need more support to succeed. An important part of this kind of training is learning how to adjust teaching styles to the needs of the student. The lack of training current teachers have makes it difficult for them to adapt the way they need to in order to support disabled students.
I am excited schools are becoming more willing to include students with disabilities in their classrooms. Strong evidence points to the success disabled students who are taught in a general education classroom can have. However, we need to start preparing our educators for teaching a wider variety of students. It is unfair of us to expect teachers will just know how to support a disabled student without the proper training. Universities and job training programs need to aid teachers by requiring special education courses and training.
Emily Huhman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.