ISSUE 109 MARCH 2008 BACK

practice

The teacher's additional predicament

Fritz Redl

This article (this is the third of three sections - see first and second sections) is a condensed version of the Keynote speech that Dr. Redl gave at the 1975 New England Kindergarten Conference sponsored by Lesley College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The talk was summarized in the Conference Proceedings which are currently out of print. Dr. Fritz Redl was at the time Adjunct Professor at Massachusetts State College, School of Education in North Adams, and Visiting Professor at the School for Criminal Justice at State University of New York at Albany.

Among the tacit assumptions so often inherent in discussions about basic and special needs is the one that 766's always should be taken care of. Says who? My task as a teacher is to see that basic and special needs are considered and basically served, but not at any one moment. Sometimes my task is to select which needs can be taken care of now, and which needs I have to help Bobby postpone. Maybe some times he has to wait until he can run around. Of course, the teacher's task in those cases is a twofold one: I have to make the decision which need can or cannot be “gratified” now, but I also have the task of help ing the youngster, in case I have to say “No,” to cope with his frustration, disappointment, panic or whatever it may be. The special task of the classroom teacher in relation to all kids' needs - special or basic - has not been sufficiently spelled out in all its implications as yet.

Furthermore, let's not forget one “tacit assumption” which I find frequently made without being properly looked at: Who says that the coverage of a youngster's “special needs” and the repair of his “special problems” can always be managed by the classroom teacher, even with teaching equipment, including even special aides? Many of the basic problems which lie behind the fact that Johnny has now some “special needs” go way back into his earlier life, and equally many needs cannot be repaired unless clear-cut and definite steps are taken in the life space of the youngster - the home, neighborhood style, the availability of proper recreational and corrective experiences, not to mention special professional services beyond the school range and the atmosphere of child- relatedness from which Johnny comes to school and to which he returns on the way “home.” The law of 766 has made a respectful gesture to children's parents - by wanting them in on the diagnostic conferences of the core evaluation team. The need for special handling or even special placement of children with severe disturbances may require implementation far beyond such gestures for democratic parti cipation in. the decision making process. And there are many cases where neither the school nor the community is at this time equipped with the service the teacher needs beyond what she can do, in order to be really helpful to Johnny's “special needs.”

The Puzzle of Group Composition
In closing, let me at least point at an additional complication which so far seems to have been widely ignored, a full discussion of which, however, would bust the framework of this presentation. Many demands for the insertion of “special needs” children into so-called “regular classrooms” seem to omit serious concerns about the question just what and how much deviation from their own need patterns a group of “regular” kids can absorb without loading the classroom and the teacher with totally unjustified complications. Educators have a habit of limiting their concern about “group composition” usually to the tasks of learning. Thus, we talk glibly about homogeneous or heterogeneous groups - words which are obviously meaningless unless we add homogeneous to heterogeneous in terms of what? In the area of clear-cut knowledge or skill, this is not too hard to decide. It would be rough to teach arithmetic to a group where half of them are reading Einstein, and the other half is still counting on their fingers, unless you had a very small group and plenty of facilities. There are, however, a whole range of other criteria on which it depends whether a group will function well or will be stuck with a problem way beyond the reach of even the best teacher or group leader. Also, the ability to “absorb” a youngster considerably different from the rest has its limits in the deviation tolerance of a given group, which in its own right is an area of more complexity than I have time to even list. The main warning I would like to end with is that with all the best skill and best will, there are limits to what a given group can absorb and still remain a good learning group. Yet most of the time we make thorough and detailed studies of the child who is supposed to be sized up for his “special needs” and problems. I haven't yet seen much thought given to data I would like to have about a given group before I am sure of inserting Bobby into it. This would give the teacher a chance to take care of his “special needs” without the development of “side effects” which may be worse than the original problem for which he was referred. Frankly, even the terminology currently in use in this connection makes me shudder: “Mainstreaming"; classrooms are not streams with that many drops of water flowing downhill! Classrooms are groups, composed of people!

This feature: http://www.lesley.edu/faculty/mmindess/onlncourse/Basic_Needs,_Special_Needs.html

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