Teachers play a noble role in educating and reshaping the lives of their students. This also includes paving a path for inclusive education and making students with disabilities feel welcomed in the classroom. Every child has a right to obtain a quality education. However, you need to go the extra mile for your students to achieve this standard.
Teaching students with disabilities requires patience and knowledge. You will need to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and intellectually to handle the magnitude of your responsibilities. But, with the right guidance and tips, you will evolve into an excellent special education teacher. To do right by these children, here’s how you become a better special education teacher:
- Get an idea of who you will work with
Disabilities are unique. No two conditions are alike, and therefore, it is essential to know what type of developmental delays you may be dealing with. So review the student’s individualized educational plan to help you understand the child’s needs and academic expectations.
For instance, a student with autism is hugely different from a child with ADHD. For the first child, you need to identify what part of the spectrum occupies to design a lesson plan tailored to their needs. While for the latter, you need to find ways the student can see their focus and control their impulsive reactions.
A course in special education will help you acquire skills to build a curriculum according to the student’s needs, guide you on practical ways to empower them, and help you understand the condition better. So, before you head into class, try and narrow down the pupils you will work with and be sure you align yourself to their needs.
- Include parents in the conversations
Parents need to be a part of the student’s journey and understand the child’s needs. If you can’t meet with them physically, send them an email detailing their child’s condition and what home measures are integral in keeping the child’s habit.
You can also encourage the patient to get involved in the individualized educational program (IEP) to add to what they want their child to learn. Parents can also provide you with better insights into their child’s condition. Education only works best when you work with parents to create a wholesome learning environment. This includes identifying if the student can work at home, what areas of the homework are troubling, and how a pupil responds to revising new concepts.
- Expect highs and lows
A student may not always follow your instructions to the T. They may also not stick to the progress you made with them and may resort to older habits. So you should expect good days when the student is cooperative, works with no resistance, and responds to gentle prodding. There will also be days when your student is disruptive, may act impulsively, and choose not to listen to you.
When you have to deal with a stressful day, don’t try to humiliate students but understand it’s part of the process. Disabilities are not linear concepts and have certain complexities, which makes them unpredictable. Instead, you must focus on what students needs and why they’re acting out. Perhaps they need extra counseling sessions with you because they feel lonely. Maybe a peer bullied them, or perhaps they had trouble with work. In all these circumstances, a student needs you to listen and bring them back on track.
If a student has trouble expressing themselves, consider teaching nonverbal methods of talking and encourage your students to gesture what they need. When they’re going through a breakdown, give them the space to have a meltdown before consoling the student. If you feel overwhelmed, give yourself a break before going back to the student. When emotions are intense on both ends, you may unintentionally scold or yell at the child.
- Stay on top of the workload
At a time, you may need to submit reports, write IEPs, review a student’s disability assessment and meet with the board of directors. Therefore you can’t afford to slack. It will help if you use applications on your phone to set reminders on what you need to do. Dedicate a time where you sit and write emails and send them to all the relevant recipients.
It is also an excellent idea to write reviews and submit IEPs whenever you can instead of waiting for the deadline. Before leaving school each day, try submitting at least one crucial document relevant to the student. This helps schools look after students with disabilities, follow district laws, and prevent discrimination.
- Create a culture of positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a necessary part of helping students grow. You should praise students for their efforts in class even if the activity is small, like completing their work on time. Positive reinforcement can help instill good qualities in students while appreciating their effort. Therefore, use words of encouragement in class, let the students know you see them, and acknowledge the work they put in.
You may also encourage your students to praise one another when they can meet everyday learning goals. Positive reinforcement can help students with disabilities learn the desired behavior and how to exhibit it. Such as communicating what they need instead of getting agitated. They will remember how good they felt when they could get you to applaud them. Positive reinforcement is beneficial when helping a child control their impulses.
You can set a benchmark for acceptable behavior and unacceptable ones. Anytime a student displays good behavior, encourage it with a kind word. If they choose not to express the desired behavior, talk to the student if you notice signs of aggravation in their body language and respond accordingly.
- Look into flexible teaching methods
A student with disabilities needs many teaching methods to pick up concepts. You can start by arranging them into groups and working with small groups at a time. This also prevents the student from becoming overwhelmed by dealing with many classmates. Ensure the instructions are short and, if necessary, repeat them. You may need to create lessons you can play on a projector, use sensory toys to keep the student engaged, or even write in large fonts for the pupil to see.
You can even ask a fellow teacher to help you carry out a lesson by being your teaching partner. This allows students to visualize concepts instead of thinking of them as abstracts—audiobooks, applications on smart devices, and playing games while studying can also help. Students with ADHD may need you to write slowly and one phrase at a time. This is because it can make it hard for them to focus when you start scribbling over the board or post too many notes. Even arranging chairs in a row can prevent them from getting distracted by the classroom layout.
However, inform students what you will be teaching in class beforehand and stick to the lesson plan. Going off the syllabus can overwhelm students with autism, causing them to lash out. So mind the needs of your pupils and make sure you’re able to teach without making them feel stressed.
Students with disabilities need a brilliant teacher to watch their back. This can easily be you as long as you’re willing to learn what your pupils need from you. Start by getting to know all the students in your class and what developmental condition you will need to work with. Ensure you have plenty of conversations with parents to help the student work at home and inform them about their child’s progress.
Your classroom should be a room of acceptance, not of shame. Let your students be themselves, and don’t guilt-trip for acting on impulse. Instead, you can use positive reinforcement and encouragement to make a child feel heard and seen.
Your workload also needs you beyond the classroom, so always hit mandatory deadlines and don’t keep the school in the dark about educating students with disabilities. Finally, predictably experiment in the classroom and use different techniques to work with your students.