What I’ve Learned From Special Ed Teachers
Among the many tasks that special education teachers are expected to perform are: assessing students’ abilities in order to determine their needs and developing teaching plans; organising and assigning activities that are specific to each student’s abilities; teaching and mentoring students in a class setting as well as in small groups and one-on-one; and writing individualised education plans in a language that is understandable by parents.
Aside from that, they must be familiar with and apply the dozens of acronyms that are commonly used in their field, such as the ADA (American with Disabilities Act), DOR (Department of Rehabilitation), LEA (local education agency), PDD (pervasive developmental disorder), and LRE (least restrictive environment), to name a few examples.
As I continue to work with special education instructors, I am continually amazed by their energy, sensitivity, and enthusiasm. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt from them that have helped me become a better teacher.
1. Accept each and every pupil for who they are. Students arrive at our facility with parcels and luggage. Carefully open and unpack the contents of the package with love, respect, and understanding. It takes time and patience to develop a relationship with a pupil; allow the process to unfold organically. Trying to force it or push it will result in you having to start anew, and it may or may not blossom as a result of your efforts.
2. The ability to actively listen is a gift. Every kid will have a problem—or at least something they believe to be a problem—on any given day. Stop, make direct eye contact, and pay attention. Don’t propose a solution unless you’ve been specifically asked to do so. Don’t downplay their difficulty, experience, or current circumstances. Don’t bring the student’s situation to the attention of the principal or another official until you’ve given them some time to consider their options. Sometimes all they want is to be heard, and that is all they get.
3. Providing scaffolding for a lesson is simply effective teaching. Prepare to deconstruct a lesson and separate it into bite-sized morsels of learning. The elements of knowing come together solidly when each piece is taught, modelled, rehearsed, and applied in its proper context. Anxiety and unease can be induced by excessive lecturing, a disproportionately large packing, or an excessive number of directions. It’s usually advisable to take things one modest step at a time.
4. When communicating with parents, be specific in your communication. When speaking with parents, be clear about the positive aspects of their child’s talents as well as their specific worries. Always exercise caution when using generalisations such as “always,” “never,” “usually,” and “sometimes.” Provide concrete examples and collaborate with parents to generate growth possibilities for their children. Parents want to help their children’s instructors; show them how.
5. When communicating with parents, avoid using jargon. Do you remember all of those abbreviations? If they really must be used, use them sparingly and clearly define each one of them. Acronyms can be useful for teachers to communicate with one another, but they can also create a rift with parents because they are exclusionary—they are a specific language reserved for educators only. When it comes to forming a partnership with parents, it is important to have a common lexicon that inspires rather than tired.
6. Students want to be accepted and loved. Our pupils want to believe that they are the only ones in our class, on our caseload, or in our hearts, and they are right. An unexpected tiny token of appreciation, such as a handwritten note, an unhurried lunch with teachers or our cell phone number, communicates to the student that we are concerned about them and their academics. It is impossible to overstate the importance of developing relationships with kids; they rely on us to demonstrate to them that love is always possible.
7. We should pass on what we’ve learnt to others. The sharing of resources and strategies with other teachers helps our children learn more effectively. Those who work in special education are well-versed in the theory of differentiation. They don’t just differentiate; they use differentiation as a philosophy to help them educate effectively. Demonstrating to one student how to implement an approach will be beneficial to all of the kids in the class.
Patient is a virtue, but it’s also something you have to learn. We need to be patient with all of our pupils, but some require a little more than others. Giving students more time for homework or using a tailored evaluation could help to alleviate some of the difficulties. Always keep in mind that parents entrust us with their most prized assets in the hopes that we will be humble, supportive, and empathetic in return.
9. Seek assistance. Avoid making the assumption that you can provide for every student in your caseload or in your class in terms of education, nurturing, food, clothing, and shelter. In order to avoid putting your physical, emotional, and mental health in jeopardy, it is critical to seek assistance. Your colleagues, school social worker, school psychologist, and other support personnel are all eager to assist you in helping your pupils succeed academically.
10. Have a good laugh. There are those days when laughter may be the last thing on your mind, but it may be exactly what you need to get through the day. No matter how far apart we are on the cognitive and logistical spectrum, a hearty chuckle or shared case of the giggles may be just what we need to take a step back and restart the process for everyone involved.