My DS1 attended an integrated HS program for 2.5 years. I also worked as a classroom assistant in a preschool room in our district. (My room was specifically only children on IEP, which I think is now non-existent, they are all integrated like the one DS attended. But all the preschool classrooms in our district go by HS standards and curriculum.)
As a parent
DS's first classroom...I wasn't super-impressed. I didn't feel welcome to visit, they also didn't have as many parent activities that I saw in the half a year we were there. But I also would not say it was HORRIBLE....I would say I probably had high expectations after working in the classroom I was in for 2.5 years. (more on that in a min.)
DS's classroom after we moved----LOVED his teachers. He learned *so* much while he was there. I talked to her almost every time I dropped him off, she had time for me. (that's another thing his other teacher never seemed to have time to answer questions or anything like that) I felt like I could ask anything. This school had more field trips (partly because of location, they could walk more) and more parent activities. Over the course of his two years, I accompanied his class on at least 4 field trips, came to school for the fall party this year, 4 'programs' they did (winter and graduation both years). Every time I went on a field trip, and for the programs, they let me and sometimes DD eat lunch with DS and the class. I remember coming to eat lunch with him one time just because he wanted me to and I hadn't been to school for awhile.
It was totally open and welcoming, and I really felt like I could come anytime, ask any questions I wanted, anything.
I loved it enough to make sure i got DD on the list for this coming year.
(AND ds's teacher says she tries to get siblings whenever she can since she already knows the family and everything.)
As an employee---
I *loved* the room I was in. Because we were in the school district and this was a classroom preparing children for kindergarten, you expect some sort of formal, teacher-directed work.
yes, it was there, in the form of a small-group table time--the kids had to be at the table, the activity was teacher-chosen, and we were actively involved. *BUT*...the activity might be something like stringing letter beads and colored beads---kids could be doing literally anything from fine-motor-skill work (which is happening no matter what if they are doing it, but I mean exclusive of anything else) to finding letters that they know, making patterns, to spelling out their names. ANYTHING.
Basically, we were there to help and encourage, but as long as the kids were at the tables, working with the materials, there was no "Wrong Way" to do most of our activities. They all had many levels and skills that could be used.
Many of our activities were also planned by child interest. (books chosen on a particular topic, table activities following the idea, favorite songs for 'large group' etc etc.)
"Work Time" was a major part of our day. Most of you would call it "free play" probably--it was named with the thought that THIS is the child's "work" at this age.
typical choose your play centers, involvement from us as requested by kids or where we saw we were needed.
what i loved about our room is the open-endedness of most of our activities and the way it allowed for all the children to 'succeed'
And the respect given to the kids and their desires and needs.
The teacher I worked with was also a very 'available' teacher. (and to give you an idea of the type of person I was, I just had a mom whose kid I had 6 years ago--and 5, child there 2 years, came up to me at the pool just to say hi, see the way-grown babies I brought to visit the classroom, and point out her child who is, by the way, NOT that old in my mind
does NOT seem that long ago!)
We also had parents who visited regularly, one mom had part of a day a week the last year I was there, another one's dad I remember came to school on his day off....there were some who came on birthdays and other special days...so much fun.
I guess to me having done my 2 experiences as a parent and my experience as an employee---that "welcome" feeling is what I would look for the most. A teacher who welcomes parents is also one who respects the children. She's (or he but I have yet to see a 'he') got nothing to hide and proud of what they do.