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That’s Not Fair!

Ms. Taylor and Ms. Jones co-teach a middle school class in which children in special education programs are included with general education students. When Katy, a student with a behavior disorder, is particularly disrespectful and Ms. Jones dismisses it lightly, another student objects and points out that other students in the class would be sent to the office for such a remark.


All year, Jamisha has been sitting behind Katy listening to her mutter comments of defiance and smart remarks to the teacher. What Jamisha doesn’t know is that Katy has a "label." Katy is severely emotionally disturbed and she is receiving special education services in the general education classroom.

Katy, is a petite and blonde eighth grader, whose looks belie her manner. Although pretty, she rarely smiles and keeps to herself unless she has something nasty to say to a teacher or classmate. Katy is quick to fight and often sullen. She lives in extreme poverty with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. She often comes to school hungry.

Katy’s class is one of many at the middle school that is co-taught. In fact, co-teaching is the norm at Park Street Technology Magnet School, a brand new school located in a low-income area. The student body reflects the make-up of the neighborhood. The 800 students are approximately 61% Caucasian, 26% African American, 12% Hispanic, and 1% other. Because it is a magnet school, the students are individually selected to participate. In recruiting for the school, representatives went door-to-door in the neighborhood to include students from the surrounding community. It never occurred to Jamisha, or any of the other students, that there might be special education students in their classes. Because there are co-teachers for many of her classes, Jamisha just thinks it’s one of those new fads, like having grade-level teams or a technology lab. Early on the school presented the co-teachers as "learning strategists" who were in the class to help everyone be more successful. The students didn’t seem to question that explanation, and for the most part, it’s been working out just fine.

Today, though, there is a problem. Ms. Taylor is working on the computer while Ms. Jones, her co-teacher, leads the class. Ms. Jones has just concluded the lesson and is in the middle of giving an assignment, but Katy isn’t listening. Jamisha notices this. Ms. Jones asks Katy to "look this way and listen, please." Katy responds by shouting loudly at Ms. Jones, "Shut the f*** up and leave me alone!"

Jamisha waits in shock to see what fate befalls her classmate for such an outburst.

Amazingly, though, Ms. Jones doesn’t even flinch. She hesitates for a minute, and when she finally speaks, simply says, "Katy, I’m sorry your day isn’t going well, but we don’t talk like that in here."

This is more than Jamisha can take. "That’s it?" she thinks to herself indignantly. "That’s all that woman says to the girl? Just keeps on passing out papers!" Unable to restrain herself, Jamisha jumps up and says, "Ms. Jones, I can’t believe you! Katy sits up in here all the time actin’ out, and you just ignore it or say somethin’ nice. You wouldn’t let ME talk to you like that! No sir! A Black girl talk to you like that, she’d be on her way to the office with a referral right now! Just ‘cause that girl is WHITE you let her get away with anything!"

Ms. Jones stops in her tracks, startled by Jamisha’s comments. In an effort to diffuse the situation she asks, "What do you think would be an effective way to handle it when someone uses foul language?"

"They should get a referral and have to go to the office," Jamisha says.

"What do you want to see happen if she goes to the office?" reasons Ms. Jones.

"She ought to get in trouble. They ought to call her momma."

"The whole point of a referral is to solve the problem. I prefer to solve the problem and make the phone call home myself. That’s why I haven’t given a referral to Katy or any other students so far this year. I would certainly do the same if it had been you."

Ms. Jones often tried to problem-solve with her students and point out natural consequences. Ms. Taylor, however, routinely dismisses problem behaviors, or calls on Ms. Jones to handle the disruptions, regardless of whether the child was receiving special education services or not. She seems to be ignoring this exchange as well, and continues working at the computer with her back to the room.

Ms. Jones quickly returns to the lesson, but as she assigns students parts to read in the play High Noon from their 8th-grade literature book, she wonders what effect this type of incident is having on the other students. Is she being perceived as playing favorites or as being unfair? Are the other students being negatively impacted by the differential treatment of some students?

Just the other day one of the students asked, "Are you Keith’s momma?"

"Well, no, why do you ask?"

"Because you’re always giving him stuff like paper and pencils."

In fact, Ms. Jones does provide supplies for Keith, another special education student in the classroom. "No, I just want him and everyone in the class to be successful," she replied.

"Well, it seems like you’re his momma."

Reflecting on this, Ms. Jones begins to think of other incidents where students have questioned her behavior. How can she and Ms. Taylor be fair to all students and still support the inclusion of students whose behavior falls outside the norm?


Discussion/Study Questions

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

Additional Questions

  1. What rationale do you think Ms. Jones used for dealing with Katy’s behavior as she did?
  2. List some others ways Ms. Jones could have dealt with Katy’s outburst that would have seemed more fair and appropriate to Jamisha?
  3. Was Jamisha’s reaction justified?
  4. Do you think teachers should be concerned with how their treatment of students in special education programs compares with students in general education?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas

Models, theories, and philosophies that provide the basis for special education practice.

Basic classroom management theories, methods, and techniques for students with exceptional learning needs.

Ethical considerations inherent in classroom behavior management.

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