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Rocking the Boat?

Linda, a new member of the special education team at Maple Park Middle School, finds herself at odds with the other teachers on her special education team as she works with the general education staff toward finding a reasonable space to call a classroom.

 

Linda Stevens had been teaching for seven years when she took a new job at Maple Park Middle School. Maple Park served 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in a mid-sized community. Each grade level consisted of approximately 400 students. It was a very crowded school and this year another special education class would be be added, the class Linda was hired to teach.

The school year also began with a new principal, Ms. Hall, who was new to the district but came with a wealth of experience. She had a reputation of being a respected leader who encouraged collaboration and allowed teachers the freedom to make their own decisions as a team.

The district special education director, Mr. Daniels, was also relatively new with two years in the district. He had experience as a special education director in another community but was still considered new within this community. He played the leading role in facilitating the district-wide adoption of inclusion with his "go-for-it" approach.

Linda joined an experienced team of special educators who had been working together at Maple Park for three years. The team included Janice and Peggy, two resource teachers for students with learning disabilities, and Dorothy, a teacher with a self-contained class for students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities.

Janice and Dorothy each had three years of teaching experience and Peggy had six. Janice and Peggy had worked together before Dorothy joined the team. They had similar styles of teaching and often collaborated in planning for and teaching their students. Dorothy, on the other hand, kept to herself.

Linda would be working with a heterogeneous group of students that included children affected by traumatic brain injury and fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as some high functioning students with cognitive disabilities. Her students would stay with her for all academic classes and lunch and then join a general education class for physical education and art.

To make room for Linda’s new classroom, the existing special education area was redistributed into three spaces. The two resource teachers, Janice and Peggy, would have the larger part of the room; Linda would be in the middle section; and the self-contained teacher, Dorothy, would be on the other side.

A week after school began the construction started, usually in the evening. By open house night, the work was completed. Linda thought it looked pretty good, but the partitions were not wall-to-wall. A gap about six feet wide on each side allowed noise in from both of the other classes, making it a difficult learning environment. Linda thought is was difficult to keep middle-school students, let alone students with special needs, on task even in an optimal environment. Given the noise, she felt that her students’ learning would be compromised. She decided to go to the principal and advocate for her students in order to improve the situation.

As Linda entered the principal’s office she said, "Ms. Hall, I would like to talk to you about my classroom."

"Please come in, is there something wrong?"

"Well, my students are having a hard time attending to their school work due to the noise coming from around the partition. Just the other day Sally Young was trying to finish her reading assignment and blurted out, ‘Ms. Stewart, can’t you do something! It’s too noisy in here to read.’ I was wondering if there are any alternatives to our present set-up."

"I hear what you are saying. Clearly, partitions don’t create ultimate learning environments," Mrs. Hall said with a knowing smile. She pondered the problem for a few moments. Linda appreciated that the principal had listened to her and she felt her concerns were respected.

"Why don’t I see who doesn’t have a class during some of your day so perhaps you can move to other rooms," Ms. Hall suggested.

"That would be great. I really appreciate your support in this matter," Linda said as she turned to leave.

Two days later the principal informed Linda that the home economics teacher had a free period during which time she could use the room. The period coincided with reading time which seemed to Linda to be a good arrangement.

The next day, Linda and her students went down to the home economics room for reading. After a few days however, Linda began to think that the home economics teacher did not appreciate their using her room. Although she never said anything, she would always use Linda's time to run the dishwasher and washing machines. Linda tried to make the best of the situation until one of her students said, "Mrs. Stevens, I can’t hear you over the spin cycle." Linda decided that shuffling her whole class from room to room didn’t seem reasonable. She and her students needed their own room. She went back to the principal and told her what had happened.  "You know, trying to move to a different location every period and not having my own space where the kids have a quiet environment isn’t working." Linda recalled a workroom she had taken note of the last time she was in the library. (She was always keeping her eye open for possible classroom space.) She suggested the possibility of using this space in the library to the principal.

Ms. Hall responded, "I hadn’t thought of that. Why don’t you look into it a little more and also contact the special education director to see if he has any suggestions. Maybe this will work for you."

First, Linda discussed the space issue with her team at their weekly meeting. She explained how her students were distracted by the noise in the center classroom. She also explained how she had tried moving to other classrooms for part of the day but that it did not work out.

"Would any of you be willing to trade classrooms with me?" Linda asked the others.

"Your classroom is not big enough for us," Peggy said. "Janet and I co-teach a lot of the time and we need a space big enough for both of our classes."

Dorothy followed with, "I have my room all set up and I really don’t want to move."

Linda understood their reluctance and said, "I’m going to try to find another solution for my students.  There is a space in the library I’m going to check into."

When there was no response from the others, Linda asked about the district’s new curriculum revisions and the meeting moved on.

The next day, Linda met with the librarians, Cindy Parker and Sharon Munez. They weren’t excited about losing their workroom and pointed out that many other teachers used this room when the teacher’s lounge in the office was crowded. Linda had never seen any other teachers using the room and speculated that Cindy and Sharon were just making excuses. When she mentioned that Ms. Hall had approved the plan, they reluctantly agreed to clear out some of their materials. Next, Linda met with the special education director to see if he had any other suggestions. The director told her that he supported the plan and would set up a meeting with the principal. At that meeting the director and principal concluded that Linda could use the workroom as a special education room for five periods out of the day.

Hearing the news, Linda was excited and thought that everything was set to go until the next team meeting the following week.

"Janice, Dorothy, and I have been getting some negative feedback from the other teachers over you taking the work room in the library for your students," Peggy began as they all took their seats around the table. Linda was shocked into silence. Peggy continued, "We’ve worked so hard to lay the groundwork for inclusion, we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize our collaboration with the general education teachers. We are afraid that your insistence on taking that space has hurt our relationship with the rest of the faculty. They think we have too much space as it is, and that we think we deserve special treatment."

"Ms. Hall and the special education director approved the move and, besides, I’ve never noticed anyone working in there," Linda replied.

"Well, apparently sometimes they do. The rest of us think you should back off for a while and just make due with the space you already have. After all, it’s really not that bad. It’s unrealistic to expect the perfect room your first year in a school."

Linda was hurt and angry. "What should I do now?" she thought to herself.

 

Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What did you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

  1. Why do you suppose that Linda thought her existing classroom space did not facilitate the learning needs of her students?
  2. Considering the research-based best practices for effective management of teaching and learning, what are some of the needs of Linda’s students?
  3. What additional classroom modifications/arrangements could make Linda’s existing space more conducive to learning for her students?
  4. Do you think that Linda should continue with the approved plan to move her students to the workroom or respect the wishes of her colleagues and remain in her existing space?
  5. What would be the repercussions of each of the above options?
  6. How can Linda effectively advocate for her students while collaborating with her colleagues and promoting inclusion within the school?

 

CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Diversity and dynamics of schools as related to effective instruction for individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration which promotes interactions with students, parents, and schools and community personnel.

Other Areas:

Research-based best practices for effective management of teaching and learning.

 

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