Transitioning into and out of special education can be a challenge for any student. Students can feel anxious, scared and fearful during these transition times, but there are ways to make the transition to and from special education much smoother.
- Toward Special Education: The IEP. When transitioning into a special education environment, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) must be written for that child. A child cannot officially be considered as a special education student unless an IEP is written by a team of people who have observed the child and are able to offer opinions on why special education is a good choice for him. An IEP meeting will be held, with several different people in attendance. The student is always welcome and encouraged to attend, along with the principal of the school, the school social worker, the school psychologist, the district's special education director, the school counselor, the general education teacher or teachers, the special education teacher and the parents of the student. At this meeting, it will be determined how much time in a special education class is necessary and what goals and objectives the student must reach during his or her time in special education for that year. With the student attending the meeting, she can give her input if she is able, and it may just give her a better feeling about the entire process.
- Toward Special Education: Orientation. Students transitioning into special education should be allowed a tour of the special education classroom before their actual start date in that room. The student should also be able to meet his new teacher and classmates, kind of like a meet-and-greet for the new student. A transition into special education can be much smoother when the student just starting out can get a feel for the classroom, the teacher and the other kids with whom he will be spending time. Sometimes by simply meeting the teacher and seeing what a non-threatening environment the new room is, a student's transition is much easier.
- Toward General Education: Preparation. When a student has been successful in the special education environment, it is time to start the transition out of special education. For most students, this will not be an immediate process, but rather one that takes an extended period of time. After the student has consistently met behavior and academic goals within the special classroom, the special education teacher will determine if the student is ready for a class in the general education classroom. Most often, the special education teacher will select the academic subject in which the student has enjoyed the most success in the special education classroom. After this decision has been made, the teacher will meet with the general education teacher and other support staff (such as the counselor and the social worker), sharing with them what goals have been reached and explaining how and why the student is ready for a general education class.
During this meeting, it will be determined which general education class the student will attend and what time would work best for the student, his schedule and the general education teacher's schedule. Once this has been decided, the special education teacher should contact the student's parents and discuss this transition into a general classroom. It will also need to be written into the student's IEP that he or she is beginning to participate in general education and what is expected of him both behaviorally (if necessary) and academically. The special education teacher will also talk with the student about this decision before any class changes are made to see how he feels about the impending change and if there are any questions he may have about this big move.
- Toward General Education: Steady Transition. When the special education student begins this general education class, the special education teacher will continue to monitor behaviors and help with academics as needed for this class. If the student continues to be successful in the general education classroom and is meeting his goals for that class, then another general education class can be added for this student. This slow transition allows the student to get used to general education again and allows the special education teacher to remain a part of the student's life, thus giving the student confidence in her ability to be successful in a classroom that isn't a special education class. Going from a small, special education room into a larger, general education room can often be a bit intimidating to the student. This is why it is important for the special education teacher to always keep open the line of communication between the student and herself.
Eventually, when the student has been fully included in all general education classes for a specific period of time (as determined by the IEP), it will be time to talk about dismissing that child from special education altogether. When this occurs, a meeting very similar to the original IEP meeting will occur, because it isn't just up to the special education teacher to make a decision to dismiss a child from a special class. This is an important step in the child's education and it needs to be well conceived. The same people will be there to discuss this student and why a move out of special education is the right step for him or her.
Transitioning into and out of special education doesn't have to be a huge issue. When it is done appropriately and includes the student in the decision-making; it can be a very successful experience!