Problems with Inclusion in the Classroom

by Howard Gerber on July 26, 2011

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Most people like to talk about the benefits of an inclusion classroom. Those are numerous, popular, and easy to list. But what about the problems with inclusive classrooms? It is almost as if it is taboo to even suggest there are problems with creating an inclusive classroom. However, as any mainstream or special education teacher can tell you, there are indeed problems.

Problems for Classroom Teachers

A classroom teacher is expected to select educational methodology to best suit each student. This is a challenging goal for one teacher who potentially has more than 30 students in each of five to seven classes. Most students can be grouped with other students whose educational needs are similar. This may reduce the planning required to two or three groups. If you add special needs students who have severe learning delays, developmental issues, or who speak little or no English, this task can feel almost insurmountable – especially if the inclusive classroom does not include a co-teacher.

Problems for Special Education Teachers

The biggest problem for special education teachers who have students in inclusive classrooms is being available to every student. For example, if an ESE teacher has 50 students who are distributed through 15 classes during any given period there is no way to assist every student every day. Students may have to be pulled out of class a few times a week for additional services, which also impacts the ability of the child and classroom teacher to maintain pace. If the ESE teacher rotates into different classes on different days, they are not able to get the full educational picture of the class and may not be there when the student needs them most.

Problems for Students

Special education and mainstream students both benefit from being in a classroom together. After all, work and life are not segregated by intelligence or ability. However, there are still some problems that need to be recognized. In a classroom of 30, with one or two special education students, it can be difficult for the classroom teacher to give the individual time and attention the students require and deserve. If the teacher is focusing on the special needs students, the students who need a more challenging environment may be overlooked because they are able to succeed with minimal assistance. While the students will likely succeed in the class, they may not feel challenged and may become bored and disinterested in the class. If the teacher tries to make the class more challenging for the mainstream students, the special education students may feel singled out when their IEP exceptions become more noticeable in areas such as presentations, projects, and homework requirements. Being in every class together may actually alienate the students more than if they were separated for specific classes.

As an ESE teacher, what do you find to be the biggest drawback of inclusive classrooms? Do you think the positives outweigh the negatives?


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim 12.07.11 at 8:40 pm

It does seem like the problems we experience in inclusion classrooms are a dirty little secret in our profession. It is extremely difficult to meet everyone’s needs properly when all the needs are so incredibly varied. My biggest problem with teaching inclusion classes is when there are students who are emotionally disturbed or have other problems that are manifested regularly in the class. They cause so many disruptions that I feel it is completely unfair to those students who are willing and able to follow school and classroom procedures/expectations and learn what is being taught.
Some of the special ed students have “advocates” who insist on all kinds of extra steps that need to be taken, and all of those steps take time away from teaching the rest of the class! I sit in meetings with these advocates, and all I can think about is who is advocating for every other student in the class who is unable to learn because of this one particular student? The whole situation can often be detrimental to others, and as a teacher who truly wants to help every student, it is very frustrating to deal with every day.

Gene 12.09.11 at 12:56 am

I have taught high school science for almost 20 years. I have NEVER had a certified special education teacher with me in the classroom. I have over 150 students total, with 21 students who have IEPs. After nearly three months, I finally received an instructional assistant in some but not all of my class periods this school year. I do feel that without help from the special education teachers in my classroom, the time I must devote to the inclusion students significantly takes away from the time I can spend with other students. The students I have who are emotionally disturbed do cause major amount of disruptions during the class period. Sometimes as frequently as every few minutes. Instruction time is repeatedly interrupted. Today I finally had to ask a certified special education teacher on staff at our school to please come to my classroom very soon to observe the challenges I am having. I am trained in my content area, and I like most other high school teachers am not trained to fully meet the needs of these students by myself. I would very much appreciate some expertise from the special education department in my classroom.

Annie 04.11.12 at 9:15 am

Amen! I am a parent of public school students, and I am extremely frustrated. The “rights” of general ed children have been totally brushed aside in the name of inclusion – the latest and greatest fad in education. School is for learning – children should not be treated as pawns in a laboratory for social experimentation. Is it not reasonable to expect that each student obtain an education commensurate with his/her potential? (the spectrum from disabled to gifted.) Special ed teachers are trained to teach special needs children and will surely do a better job than non-trained, overwhelmed general education teachers. We are asking our teachers to do an IMPOSSIBLE task by managing these diverse classrooms and by the way, they are expected to turn out higher and higher tests scores each year. Inclusion is counterintuitive when it comes to educating kids. This is not rocket science. Where is common sense? Obviously teachers were not consulted when the “experts” in Congress made this the law of the land.

Christina Thompson 09.26.12 at 8:47 am

I have a special education son and he thrives in the inclusion classroom. On the other hand, he does not have behavioral problems. I believe the class benefits from his time in the class, but there are several other special education students in the class who are extremely disruptive. They are even at times dangerous to the other students around them. I am terribly upset about the situation and feel it is my responsibility to do something about the situation. I am just worried about hurting the education of my own son in the long run.

Randy Burkhaulter 02.19.14 at 11:32 am

Wow! Your child’s right brushed aside??? How is that? What about my child? Does he not deserve an education like your child. You all have the wrong idea, and have bought in on all the myths of inclusion, shame on you all and the writer for such a hateful and completely backward approach. And just like Christina said our children can be effected like your children can be. We don’t want the world, we just want our kids to be accepted and learn from your children. Well, not your children, children who have tolerant parents.

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Denise 09.18.14 at 12:49 pm

Randy, I think you are misunderstanding the concerns of teachers and parents of non-disabled students. I am a Special Education teacher and have read this article and comments as well as several others on the topic. I don’t think that anyone wants to take away the rights of students with disabilities or prevent them from getting an education that is free and appropriate (as the language used in FAPE). It is my opinion and I believe others who’ve made the point here, that it is not always appropriate for a student with disabilities to be in the general education classroom. Now keep in mind (and I think we can all agree) that the needs of students with and without disabilities varies. So, what is appropriate for some may not be for others. I think many advocates of education for all just don’t believe the rights of non-disabled students should be less valued simply because they have fewer special needs. In other words, a student who’s instruction is more disrupted by a peer is at a disadvantage than one who is not in a class with a disruptive student. And this can be said whether the disruptor has a documented disability or not.

Missy 10.06.14 at 9:19 pm

Inclusion is a major concern! It is an injustice to everyone in the classroom. Too many individual needs, accommodations, behavior plans, and not enough staff or help to make sure everyone is getting the best education. Why not have small group resource rooms? If you cannot read on grade-level, imagine how frustrating it must be. Not every child needs to be in the general classroom! If this is what inclusion was intended to be, it is NOT working….

Nancy Maroney 10.14.14 at 11:06 am

I think that special education lawyers are ruining public education. There should be a law against frivolous lawsuits. Sometimes parents refuse to accept the results of the district’s evaluation. An independent evaluation often gets parents the outcome they desire. Often obscure measurements are used. If they refuse to accept an ED identification they can get a lawyer and the district defense is a referral to protective services which they are resistant to do. In addition the inclusion laws are fiercely protected by lawyers and state department consultants even when the child needs to be in a special education setting. Since that has disappeared in public school, that means an out of district placement is needed and at times rejected. The result is that schools put up with more outrageous behavior that they are not allowed to control or are ill equipped to control. Add to that impossible achievement goal attainment. This comes at a time when more emotional problems are emerging and school shootings are happening. Psychologists are not allowed to or are ill equipped to identify mood disorders or personality disorders. Research shows that unidentified mental illness leads to substance abuse which has become one of the greatest tragedies in America. It is time that the federal government addresses this and amends special education law. This is an issue that should be reviewed by Congress. It is that dangerous. A retired school psychologist.

Susan 11.21.14 at 9:53 pm

I teach in an inclusive classroom with a spec ed teacher, and I feel like it is totally unfair to every student in the room. Another big thing in education is group work. My high students are expected to babysit the spec ed students in their group or to do the work while the spec ed kids just write down what they are told. Most of my spec ed students are capable of so much more, but the spec ed teacher doesn’t want to push them. She is convinced that group work and graphic organizers will magically make them learn. She won’t even make them write if they don’t want to! It is a disaster and is very frustrating for me. And the worst part is that since she is the expert with spec ed, my concerns are considered irrelevant. Every special ed teacher I’ve worked with shows up to class late, leaves whenever they want, sits in the back and plays on their phones while I teach, and wants all lessons watered down to nothing.
I also have some behavioral issues in my class. I do not think that I should have to be concerned about a kid as big as me having an angry outburst in my classroom. I understand that special kids have rights, but so do I and so do my other students. No child (or teacher) should have to feel nervous or uncomfortable in a class.
My youngest daughter, kindergarten, is ADHD and ODD and will likely be referred for spec ed eventually based on her struggles to focus and learn this year. However, there is no way I want her to be put in spec ed where her behavior will be excused, she will be taught to let her people do her work, and will have no personal accountability. I love her too much to send her down such a damaging path.

CGC 02.12.15 at 2:13 am

I would be willing to bet that none of those lawyers’ children participate in Inclusion Classrooms with a high degree of disruptions. This is where the American Legal System breaks down. We have politicians who are not of the working class governing the working class majority and now lawyers making laws and defending laws they don’t even participate in. Doh!

Jane 03.22.15 at 10:37 am

I teach in high school inclusive classrooms. I particularly take aim with Susan’s comment. As a college graduate (with a master’s degree), I know the content.The teachers do not want to share planning or teaching responsibilities, rather they want me to show up, maintain order (some of them-some like chaos), be the cell phone policewoman, and then magically help all IEP students complete their work in the 15 minutes allotted at the end of class. Sometimes I have to leave the room during lecture (“to use the bathroom”), so I don’t nod off.
I like all the teachers I work with personally, but they refer to me as their para and order me around, and then expect to me to cheerfully exude professionalism. If I had known this was what special education was, I wouldn’t have gone down this path. I thought I would be a teacher, crazy me.


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