The strategy backfired. One morning, Andrea swept an arm along the teacher’s desk, scattering framed photos of Ms. McDermott’s family across the classroom. A glass frame shattered, and another hit a student in the arm. Though no one was hurt, Ms. McDermott says she lost hours of instruction time getting the children to settle down after the disruption.
From the first weeks of school, Ms. McDermott found Andrea’s plight heartbreaking. “No! No! No!” she remembers her student screaming at times. “Want Mommy! Want Mommy!”
“She looked at me, like she was saying, ‘Help me,’ and I couldn’t. How could I possibly give Andrea what she needs?”
Years ago, students like Andrea would have been taught in separate classrooms. Today, a national movement to “mainstream” special-education students has integrated many of them into the general student body. As a result, regular teachers are instructing more children with severe disabilities — often without extra training or support.
This year, Ms. McDermott counted 19 students in her class at Whittier Elementary School. Five had disabilities, including attention deficit disorder and delays in reading and math. The teacher worried that she was failing all her students — especially Andrea. “It used to be a joy to go to work,” she says. “Now all I want to do is run away.”
In Scranton and elsewhere, the rush to mainstream disabled students is alienating teachers and driving some of the best from the profession. It has become a little-noticed but key factor behind teacher turnover, which experts say largely accounts for a shortage of qualified teachers in the U.S.
More on mainstreaming.
Background: Special Education Legal history and a few charts/graphs.