Teaching presents many challenges even for veteran teachers. Special education teachers have even more challenges to prepare for than your typical teacher. They need many tools to be successful teachers who enjoy their job and want to continue teaching. Special education teachers must be all of the following:
1. Actors :
Teach the same skill in multiple formats. All children need lots of practice to master any new skill. Special education students need to be able to practice a skill in many formats. They may need to act it, draw it, sing it, dance, read it, play it, and any other way you can think of to teach it to them. The more they practice it and connect to the skill, the more likely they are to master the skill.
Evaluate students’ understandings during lessons. Sometimes, even the most prepared lessons fail, even those hugely successful with other classes. You may have to change gears in the middle of lessons. Always have a back-up plan. The key is to be flexible and meet the needs of your students. Their needs will change frequently especially when you take into account home situations and medication issues.
3. Behavior Specialists:
Class behavior plans work wonders. Try to focus on the positives as much as possible. My students begin each day with 100 points. Their job is to keep all 100 points. The more points they keep, the more privileges they are able to earn. If the students are misbehaving, I brag on others’ appropriate behaviors. If students misbehave, I tell them, “You are failing to earn your points.” The point system is a great motivator to encourage students to behave and treat classmates/teachers with respect.
4. Paperwork Extraordinaire:
Invest in a good clipboard that has a compartment on it. All important papers go into the clipboard: emergency info, parent notes, etc... I keep a three ring binder for everything else sectioned by: blank spreadsheet (planning and differentiation), different days for special area classes, IEPs, standards, scheduling, students’ homerooms, teaching evaluations, etc…
You will constantly be searching for solutions to various problems: how to teach students to read, do math, write, speak, behave, cope… The best resources you have are the other teachers in your building, so ask for their advice. When in doubt, go with what feels right
A good teacher is always learning. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your students. Take classes, read and share as much as you can. Support each other and develop a real network of people you can confide in.
You will fix boo-boos, comb and style hair, wash faces, explain the facts of life (even in 1st grade), buy shoes and socks, teach children how to cook simple meals in the microwave, and so much more. Without building this caring relationship, the children will have no reasons to do any of the foreign things such as finding nouns and verbs.
The hardest lesson learned has also been the most valuable: behaviors of students cannot be forces to change. If I don’t like how my students are behaving, then I must figure out how to change my behaviors so my students will also change. Find ways to use meaningful praise with your students because they respond the most to positive feedback. Get to know them and their situations by inviting parents in and speaking with them, which gives an indication of what the family believes is “normal” behavior. If you can build a relationship with the child, they are more willing to try things your way whether it is behaving or learning.
Karla Banks has been teaching special education for 12 years in a Title One, urban school. The first 5 years were in a pull-out resource classroom. The last 7 years have been spent in a self-contained k-5th grade classroom with students of various disabilities.
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