Ellen G. White says, “Teachers are to watch over their students, as the shepherd watches over the flock entrusted to his charge. They should care for souls as they that must give account” (Special Testimonies on Education, 48. 4). Children with special needs flourish under personalized care. The ultimate focus of Adventist education is “to restore the image of Christ in those placed under their care,” and achieving that goal for students with special needs requires careful thought.
As Adventist teachers, we should be inclusive in order to accommodate the challenges of all students. This mnemonic, comprised of words whose first letters spell “inclusive,” can be helpful for remembering the essential qualities required of an inclusive Christian teacher:
- Integrity and intuitiveness. Teachers need to be Christ-like role model to students. Further, teachers must use their intuitive skills to uncover the underlying reasons behind the behavior of students with special needs (Purdue, 2018). They should remember that all students are formed in the image of their Creator and that Christ is the pattern after which they are to be fashioned (White, 1896).
- Normalization. As teachers, “we are under solemn, sacred covenant to God to bring up our children for Him and not for the world; to teach them not to put their hands into the hand of the world, but to love and fear God, and to keep His commandments” (Special Testimony on Education, 48. 6). Because of this, the teacher should accept their students’ disabilities and work with students who have special needs to develop their strengths, just as they do with other students.
- Comradeship. Teachers should be hospitable to students with special needs in order to help them feel comfortable during the learning process. The Bible gives many clear examples of practicing hospitality by providing help to the needy (Genesis 18, 19; I Kings 17; II Kings 4), and teachers should do the same.
- Learning patience and accommodation. Children with disabilities need special attention and sometimes extra patience. As James 1:19 reminds us, it is good to be quick to listen and slow to speak and to become angry.
- Uniformity. Teachers being consistent in schedule and environment helps many children with special needs. Since these children are sometimes slow to adapt to changes, it can be helpful when teachers behave predictably.
- Special value of every individual. Teachers need to recognize the special value of each student and remember that all humans are created in God’s image.
- Individual rights such as justice, protection, equality, and provision. Students with special needs are entitled to equality and protection rather than skepticism or resistance.
- Visualization of desired learning. Teachers should visualize their plans and ensure the plans will address the different needs of all students, including students with special needs. Further, teachers should assist learners in visualizing a clear path to achieving their learning objectives.
- Expertise in growth and development. Teachers should develop expertise in methods for optimizing student growth and development. Every child comes with different developmental factors and backgrounds, and teachers should have the expertise to adjust for these differences.
These qualities can be challenging in practice, but achieving them is possible. As Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Similarly, Galatians 6:9 reminds us to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”