I’ve spent the majority of my two decades in the classroom working in an inclusion environment. The great majority of the time my students have been in my classroom. They may have received extra support from ESOL or special education teachers but they did so, mostly at least, while in our classroom with their classmates. It’s an atmosphere in which I strongly believe.
This year I’m working in a different situation. Five of my students spend a significant amount of each day in a small group in another classroom. They spend the first 45 minutes of the day with the entire class, having breakfast, watching the morning news show, and for our morning meeting. They join us again an hour later for specials (music, PE, art, etc.), followed by social studies or science, and lunch and recess. Then they are gone to their small group for a couple of hours, to return to wrap up our day. They spend more of their with their classmates than in their small group, but not as much of it with me. That was hard for me to accept at first, even believing that their academic needs will be met far more appropriately and effectively in the small group.
It’s made for an interesting job for me this year in ways that I didn’t anticipate. For a significant portion of my day I am teaching a smaller group than I’ve ever taught. I still have a noticeable range of strengths and needs but with fewer students I can support them more carefully. However, during those parts of the day when I have all of my students I have a wider range of needs than I think I’ve ever had. I have students who are engaging in their learning at a kindergarten level as well as students who are engaging in their learning at a fourth or fifth grade level. I’m offering differentiated options in ways I’ve never done before.
This week I realized something else about this situation. Two of my students, who have been at our school since kindergarten, have missed quite a few days every year. We’re talking somewhere between 10 and 20% of the school days. Both of these students are in the small group portion of my class. One of them missed several days in September but has not missed a single day in October. The other has missed only one day so far this year.
Two months into the school year I can’t be sure how this will play out. However, at the moment it seems like a significant change from previous years. This year is the first year we’ve worked with students in this way, pulling students out for large portions of the day for small group support. I have to wonder if these two students are feeling better about school this year and so are more willing to come each morning. Is it possible that school has, in the past, been so difficult and frustrating that they looked for ways to avoid it? Could they be having more success and, therefore, be feeling more comfortable, secure, and safe at school now?
I’ll be watching as the year continues to see how their attendance goes. Even if they don’t miss another day, however, that won’t tell me if my hypothesis is correct. I am not likely to know the answer to this one. But if their attendance stays strong it will continue to make me feel more comfortable with having them leave my room and most of their classmates for so much of the day.