Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

First year teachers are incredible, aren’t they? They walk into the classroom with little more than practicum experience and are faced with innumerable challenges. They have moments of joy when student engagement is present and relationships grow, but they also have moments of darkness when their directions are dismissed and connections fizzle. But they come back, most of them, every day, to do their job, and they get better. By year three, despite the exhausting learning curve they have climbed, they feel fresh. They feel confident. They feel capable.

As hard as the first year of teaching is, what teacher would want to go through it again? If what you’re doing in your classroom is working, why would you want to risk failing the majority of your students by including one individual who doesn’t respond to the system you’ve created? Many teachers wouldn’t, but a few teachers dare. A few teachers dare to take risks, enlist supports, and drive the bus toward global change. It isn’t easy, but I promise you if you’re willing to go all in, if you’re willing to feel as uncomfortable as you did during your first year of teaching, your classroom family will flourish in unimaginable ways.

What Does it Mean to Dare?

Nothing great can happen without trust, and trust doesn’t solidify overnight. Joe Beasley, (the general education teacher whom I co-teach with,) and I are in our second year of co-teaching. There were times last year when we cocked our heads to the side at the other person’s response to a classroom situation. There were times when Joe thought my supports were equivalent to “giving in” and there were times when I thought his expectations were “too demanding.” But then guess what happened? One of us would be absent, and it would be blatantly evident to the remaining teacher that it was not our individual strengths, but our combined qualities, that made our classroom strong.

If the unknown makes you uncomfortable, if reverting back to those first year teacher feelings makes you cringe, you are normal! Whenever Joe and I are faced with a new behavioral challenge, we both hold our breaths and brace ourselves even as we’re putting plans in place. Will we let our students down? Will we let each other down? Will parents be unhappy? All of these are possibilities, because every student is different and we are always learning. But what if we succeed? How sweet will that be? And what will we learn along the way to support others in their journey toward increasing inclusion?

If you think you might be brave enough to feel vulnerable again, talk to your principal. Talk to colleagues. Talk to parents and students. Talk to your community. If you think you’re brave enough to increase inclusion, you have to talk to others, because if you think it’s all on you, you’re wrong. One person alone cannot make this change. We are only as good as the supports around us, and I strongly believe that a world where all people support one another, despite our differences, is a better place for my children to live.

How do you work to increase inclusion in your school? What advice would you offer to those who are still unsure? Please share your thoughts below!