Recently in a conversation with an inclusion teacher, we decided that this analogy best describes what it is like to be the general education teacher in an inclusion class. You come upon a lake and you see three boats. In one boat all of the children have paddles and they are all paddling in different directions, making no progress. In another boat there are enough paddles in the bottom of the boat but the children are all looking around trying to decide what to do. They don't know what the paddles do or how to use them to move forward. The last boat is empty, but around the boat, children are drowning. The first boat represents those students that are at the highest level in your class who all think they know what to do, but without a teacher to help direct the course, they will continue to go in circles or to not move at all. The middle boat represents the normally developing children who have all the tools but just don't know how to use them without a teacher to develop their skills. The empty boat represents the students that are struggling - the ones who are drowning without your help. As you arrive on the scene, who do you help? On your worst day, that is the way teaching feels, as if you can't possible get to every student and that without your guidance and intervention some students will not make it. If there are too many children drowning in your class, you can only save those that are about to go under and you wonder if you will ever have time to guide the rest to safety. It's a scenario that keeps me awake at night.
In the ideal world there is rescue and balance so that while one person is saving those that are drowning, another is practicing with those who don't know how to paddle and still another drops in to get all those that are paddling rowing in the same direction, but that is so much easier said than done. The only people who say that can be done easily or effortlessly are the ones designing the programs, not the ones living it. On the best of days, there are enough hands to touch every single child and you leave at the end of the day with a smile on your face and a skip in your step. Doesn't every single child deserve an education like that? It's just a matter of figuring out how to make that happen... Is RtI the next great model? Will it be the answer we've searched for all these many years? Will it provide the life preservers and compass that we are looking for?