A smart comment by Dave Reid, a math teacher in California, about meeting the diverse needs of students in an overcrowded, under-resourced classroom:

Hi JJ. This is a reply to your July 20, 2012 at 12:41 am comment where you stated: “…any good teacher or administrator knows that placing these [sped] kids in inclusion or mainstream setting is meaningless unless you do provide them meaningful instruction. Accommodate. Differentiate, engage them. It’s not as easy as just placing them into the class, but many still don’t realize that.”

I believe we are fooling ourselves to think that most / many teachers can effectively differentiate for the diversity of needs in secondary classrooms today. “Meaningful instruction” is nigh impossible unless a student is ready and willing to engage at some level, taking into account any limitations of his/her disability. If an aide, or two, is available to assist and support the teacher, and adequate space and resources are available, the likelihood for meaningful instruction increases considerably.

Realistically, teachers with 150 students a day are faced with a near impossible mission to intuit changing student-specific interests that map appropriately to the myriad of standards per subject. I get the intent. It is honorable and a laudable goal. I wish it happened daily in classrooms throughout America. But it does not since it is a “bridge too far” expectation.

In my opinion, the education field causes more harm than good when it gives the impression that student-specific differentiation is achievable by any except the most talented of experienced teachers, and even in those cases I believe they need to be in a school culture that nurtures students and supports teachers in manners that enable their mutual success. In other words, it is in rare instances that the many factors that impact student learning align sufficiently for an individual teacher with 30-40 students per period, with five different periods per day, to accommodate ELD, RSP, GATE, or other special needs such as 504 plans.

Unless, and until, a realistic deployment of resources commensurate with the task besetting a teacher are readily available, we are fooling ourselves that meaningful instruction is possible, much less within reach. I wish it were otherwise. Regardless, I will continue to do everything in my power to make it so. Its just that with a quarter of a century experience facing difficult challenges with resources, I have a pretty good sense for what is realistic, and what is wishful thinking.