Students with various learning difficulties, developmental delays, or physical disabilities are usually taught by special education teachers. Special education teachers may place more emphasis on teaching life skills like communication, social skills, and personal care in addition to academic topics.
As a special education teacher, you hold a unique role in the lives of your students. You are not only an educator but also an advocate, a mentor, and a source of support. Teaching students with special needs requires a special skill set, and navigating the challenges and complexities of special education can be both rewarding and daunting. However, with the right approach, mindset, and strategies in place, you can thrive in this important role and make a meaningful difference in the lives of your students.
Here are some tips you might find useful if you want to be well-equipped to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment that empowers your students to reach their full potential.
1. Invest in Professional Development
Learning never stops, even when you become a teacher. Professional development enhances teaching practices to have a good effect on students’ learning and is an integral part of an educator’s success. Being a special ed teacher comes with its own set of challenges, and as research changes the way we perceive students with disabilities, it’s crucial to update your abilities and knowledge.
Online education is a terrific approach to accomplish this since it gives you the flexibility of taking courses on your own time without compromising your school activities. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) focuses on accrediting teacher education programs in U.S. colleges and universities. Attending special education online classes from schools accredited by them would add value to your professional portfolio and provide you with the skills required in a special education classroom.
By expanding their knowledge, skills, and expertise through professional development, special education teachers can become leaders in their field, take on leadership roles such as special education coordinators, curriculum developers, or instructional coaches, and make a greater impact on the education of specially-abled students.
2. Collaboration is key
Find someone with experience and knowledge at the school prepared to work with you in a mentoring capacity. Therapists, other special ed instructors, and doctors can provide immense support whenever you need information or assistance about interacting with special needs students. Most of the time, you have to co-teach with a general education teacher in an inclusive classroom. There is a lack of training for general education teachers about working with students with special needs such as ADHD. Working with a general education teacher can help them better understand the needs of special education students.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), the dropout rate for students with learning disabilities (18.1%) is nearly three times the rate of all students (6.5%). This can be reduced when you, as an educator, deeply understand what the students require and how they feel in a classroom. The collaborators mentioned would play a vital role in helping you develop that empathy and ace how to handle stressful situations.
3. Develop positive relationships with your students
Create an inclusive, upbeat, and engaging classroom culture in both one-on-one and group settings. Share your personal stories and ask them to share their own. A strong bond with your students instills empathy and boosts their confidence. You would be able to infer the challenges they face in the classroom based on the stories they share and the way they talk about things.
Research suggests that teachers contribute two to three times more than other academic factors to a child’s performance. Although creating strong bonds with students and teachers is crucial in all student-teacher interactions, it might be even more crucial in special education. Teachers can better adjust students’ education to their needs when they are aware of their strengths and weaknesses. It is possible to enhance students’ learning and achievement by building on the foundation of a healthy connection.
4. Connect with your students’ families
Make plans to meet with or call the parents of your pupils at the beginning of the school year to introduce yourself and the course outline. Parents are a valuable source of information about their child’s abilities, interests, and experiences outside school. This information can help special education teachers better understand the student’s individual needs and tailor their instructional approach accordingly. Consistency and continuity are essential in supporting students with special needs. Collaborating with parents helps ensure that the strategies, interventions, and supports used at school are aligned with those used at home.
A report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) says that 48 percent of parents believe that children will outgrow mental difficulties. Talking to parents and educating the ones who do not have much information about the needs of their children will curb this stigma.
5. Understand and review IEPs
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are holistic plans created to help a child with learning difficulties and other disabilities excel in school. It outlines your child’s current learning status, your desired outcome for them at the end of the academic year, and the steps you will take to assist them in getting there.
Firstly, mark important meeting hours and dates on your calendar. Then thoroughly examine each IEP and make a note of any goals, problems, or learning accommodations that need to be made. These may include the need for assistive technologies, related services such as speech therapy or occupational therapy, and other supports necessary for the student to succeed academically. Organize them in a manner that they are easily accessible. IEPs help you objectively evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction, make data-driven decisions, and communicate progress to parents, students, and other team members.
6. Ensure self-care
Special education teachers may encounter emotionally challenging situations, such as dealing with students who have behavioral issues or witnessing their students’ struggles. Practicing self-care, such as engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or seeking counseling or therapy when needed, can help you manage your emotions, reduce stress, and maintain emotional well-being.
Staying up late to make lesson plans, planning activities, and skipping meals when you get too immersed in work is not the way to go. Overworking leads to early burnout, so when you leave after the last class of the day has ended, bring home a manageable quantity of work. You cannot give your best in the classroom if you are too tired to enjoy your work.
A special education teacher needs to be dedicated, compassionate, and open to lifelong learning and growth to be successful. You can create a welcoming and inclusive learning environment that supports the academic and social development of your students by adhering to the suggestions listed in this article.
Remember that each kid is different, and your unrelenting dedication to their achievement can change their lives. You may succeed as a special education teacher and positively impact children’s lives if you are passionate and persistent.
Author Name: Sheerin Jafri