After having spent several weeks at Colegio Highlands Los Fresnos, I have been able to observe some great teachers and wonderful teaching exercises that I hope to bring back to my classroom in the United States one day. Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I have also noticed a lot of cultural differences between American and Spanish schools, especially the long breaks that teachers and students have during the day that I envy and that I think could really improve our productivity in school. There are many things that I love about working in a Spanish Catholic schools, but also many things that I wish I could change.
All in all, I think that the school does a great job at meeting the needs of the typically developing student. But, something that I began noticing my first day at school and that I have continued to notice in all of my subsequent visits is that there are students with special needs in all of the classrooms, but there is no special education system in place nor training for the teachers for the accommodation of these students. In the United States, there are a lot of different models for special education and different kinds of programs for the severity of the students’ disability. All students with documented disabilities, whether in a substantially separate special education program or in a full-inclusion classroom, are given an IEP or a 504 plan to help teachers know how to best serve these individuals. Teachers are trained to work with students with different disabilities and there are many different staff members, such as therapists, to help streamline the education of these students. I’m not saying that each student is always given the education that they should receive, but there are a lot of systems in place to help ensure that they do.
Having only ever seen this model of special education before, it shocks me that there are students with a variety of special needs in the classes and that the teachers have no way of handling it. On my first day at my pre-practicum, the fourth grade teacher came up to me to tell me about her classroom and she mentioned that there were a lot of students with special needs. She said that they can make it really difficult to get things done during class. I was surprised that she spoke so bluntly to me about this, but I assumed she just wanted to fill me in. During class, however, I noticed her yelling at the students for disrupting class or not paying attention and berating them for not staying on task. This really bothered me, especially because I have worked with students with special needs before and I know that this is one of the least effective ways to get your message across.
I have now been to Colegio Highlands five times and each subsequent time I have observed the same kind of interactions between the teacher and her students. This past Thursday I finally asked her about her experiences working with students with special needs in the past, and she told me that she has had none. Although it didn’t surprise me having observed her in class, it did because I couldn’t believe that the school would place a teacher with no experience or training in a class with so many students who have disabilities or who are being tested for them. I then asked her what the special education system in the school is and she replied that there isn’t one, and that there are no resources available for the teachers.
From what I understood from our conversation, these students have disabilities and are in the general education classroom, but they have no action plans and set goals for these students. I don’t know how typical this is, or if most students with disabilities usually are in separate learning environments and do not attend private schools such as this one, but it has definitely made my time at school a little more difficult. This doesn’t make me dislike my school or the teachers I am working with, but it has given me a lot of a chance to reflect on our education system and it has made me appreciate it more. I am planning on continuing to research the special education system here, but this is just something that I have noticed that is probably the most significant difference between teaching experiences in the U.S. and this one.