One of the most powerful services on the New York State special education services continuum is that of consulting teacher, providing indirect services. The New York City Department of Education applied for an innovative waiver (to New York State Department of Education) and combines resource room and consulting teacher into one service delivery model called Special Education Teacher Support Services. As is clear from the NYC DOE continuum of services, a SETSS provider can work either directly with students in a classroom or s/he can work indirectly for students by co-planning with other teachers. Related service providers can also provide their services indirectly: consulting with the classroom teacher and planning how to integrate their strategies into the day-to-day life of the student in the classroom.
Schools that prioritize consulting teachers (in NYC SETSS) indirect services design the adults’ schedules to maximize co-planning either at the grade level or in subject area teams and make sure that the special education provider is involved in ongoing instructional planning. Before engaging in co-planning, the consulting teachers must put time in their schedules to get to know the students on their caseloads, and must also familiarize themselves with the routines and expectations of the various classroom settings. Thus, when instructional planning occurs, they are in a good position to recommend instructional materials, modes of learning, and create opportunities to maximize the success of all students in the instructional event.
An example may help bring this to life: Michael, an eighth grader, does not have much oral language. His biology teacher meets with the consulting teacher before she starts her Streambed unit to plan Michael’s participation in the series of experiments, designed to study absorption and erosion. The science teacher shows the worksheet that all students will use that tracks minutes and seconds for each of the experiments. Each group needs a recorder and the teachers decide to offer Michael that role and provide a little pull-out advance coaching on how to fill out the form. One of Michael’s IEP goals is to learn to tell time and this will be a perfect fit. The consulting teacher will be coming the later that week to teach the whole class a specialized study technique they are rolling out to all 8th graders to help them prepare for high school, and during that lesson, the science teacher will meet with Michael in the science lab to pre-teach the data collection form.
If the consulting teacher’s schedule has been built so that major portions of the day are devoted to indirect services, it is also possible for the consulting teacher to sometimes push-in to classrooms as the specific need arises. This is in contrast to the daily automatic push-in SETSS system where the special educator goes faithfully to each general education classroom each day and serves as a support teacher helping out individual students as needed. Without time for co-planning SETSS teachers often finds themselves in the role of teacher assistant. Thus, the general education curriculum has not been changed to accommodate a wider range of learners, the special education provider has not brought in templates and strategies that can help provide greater access to the curriculum for students who struggle with print literacies, and the teachers have not had the opportunity to engage in collaborative problem-solving around students and curriculum.
As school districts move away from “special education as a location” to special education as supports and services that provide access to the general education curriculum, indirect services by consulting teachers are an essential component.