RTI appears to be the current trend in differentiated education. As I read more about it, I’m wondering how it will be received by the average teacher in a normal classroom (as opposed to a special education or resource classroom.) In California, and probably in many other states, education budgets are being cut, class sizes are getting larger, and many teachers, including reading and other specialists, are being laid off. This leaves more students per teacher and less help to teach those who are having problems — both academic and behavioral– for the teachers who remain.
Enter RTI. RTI, in theory, is a way that all students in regular classrooms will receive regular evaluations to see how well they are meeting the very specific objectives that have been laid out by the teacher or the administration. These objectives can be both academic and behavioral. Those not meeting the objectives would received tiered levels of individual interventions by teachers and facilitators. It is only when the third tier interventions fail to make a difference in performance that the student would be referred to special education.
The success of RTI lies in the administration and the teachers believing that it will be worthwhile and their willingness to make it work. According to a blog at Intervention Central, there are seven reasons why teachers may not embrace RTI. Among these are lack of skills, lack of time, and loss of classroom control. Many teachers also feel it’s not their job to make these interventions in the regular classroom, and that the time spent in these interventions will detract from teaching the subjects as they want to teach them and have successfully taught them before. Some teachers also believe that unmotivated students do not deserve all this extra attention at the expense of the students who really do want to learn and be successful. They believe students who don’t learn in the “normal” ways should be referred to special education.
RTI programs assume that not every student who falls behind or “just doesn’t get it” has learning disabilities. I taught in a program for some of these students at the high school level in the 1960′s. I, with other teachers, were sent to take a special training class that left us very sympathetic to these students. They had had bad breaks in life. They had problems outside the classroom that would interfere with learning. They had the IQ to succeed. They just needed to be motivated. This class left me prepared to go in and be understanding. They did not leave me, in my first year of teaching, with the tools to do the motivating. In school we were taught our academics and general methods designed to engage students not carrying extra emotional baggage, who wanted to succeed in school. We were given no extra training on how to engage students that came into our classrooms ready to hate the subject we were teaching before they even walked in. We were given no course in managing a class of twenty of these special students.
I’m wondering how many teachers today have received the necessary training to motivate the unmotivated student who would rather be truant. I personally believe these students need individual mentors who will give them the attention they need to become motivated in response to that relationship, but I doubt if most of these students will get this kind of help. A normal classroom teacher with between 25 and 40 students will not have time to mentor many individuals. Some teachers will have special gifts that will make every child feel special and motivate the students to please them, but this is a rare gift. I had only about three teachers in my own K-12 experience who were so gifted, and I only knew one colleague who had this gift. He had great classroom control, but I don’t know if even he got every student to succeed academically.
I have met many creative teachers who do their best to engage unmotivated students, but they do not always succeed. They may succeed in making the students feel accepted and in enhancing their self esteem, but the students still may not make the hoped for academic progress. As best I can figure it out, these teachers will now have to prepare individual interventions to meet the needs of any students not making the progress that is charted out for them in the objectives. As best I can figure out, this will mean more paperwork and more meetings for already overburdened teachers.
Meanwhile, as administrators decide whether to implement RTI in their schools or districts, they need to consider how they will help their teachers get behind it. I know many teachers who are already quite stressed at the results of the budget cuts. Many have been assigned to teach a grade they’ve never taught before after teaching one grade level for many years, and they have to learn to adjust to a new age and plan lessons with new content. How will they respond to even more paperwork brought about by implementation of RTI? Many experienced teachers know how to instinctively intervene when they see a student needs a different approach, and they do it. Will they now be forced to back it up with paperwork to keep administrators happy? Will it leave them less time to come up with creative interventions if they have to put everything on paper first — or even after the fact?
I understand that the intentions behind RTI are good, but I really wonder if this is just another attempt by the education professors to put their theories to the test and an attempt by school districts to get more federal money by adopting the latest favored program. Meanwhile, teachers will, as usual, have to jump through whatever hoops are put out for them, and hope they have time to do the actual teaching and intervening so that they can make a difference in real lives — no just on paper.
For a clear explanation of RTI and its tiers, check out this small flip chart book: Quick Flip for Understanding Response to Intervention (RTI). This link will also have the most current price, which is very reasonable, and volume discounts are available.