Why do we need Special Education Classrooms?
As I continue my teaching career, I often find myself having to defend what I do. Politicians, the general public, parents, and even colleagues have questioned the necessity of having a special education program. I will even admit that with the ability to foster children’s needs in a full inclusion setting, I myself have had fleeting moments of self-doubt. However, as I embark on the new school year, I can say with confidence that what I do makes a difference. Special education, when implemented as intended, makes a difference.
I would like to take a minute to back up and let my readers know that I in fact do support inclusion. Through discussion with parents, planning with general education teachers, and documentation on the IEP, I have created a program that heavily involves me “pushing-in” to the student’s classroom. I have implemented many different co-teaching techniques and found them to be very beneficial for my students. With that said, I would like to now share what I believe is “special” about special education classrooms for those parents weighing in on their options and what is best for their individual child.
Special Education Classrooms:
1. Accommodate Students’ Rate of Learning
In a special education classroom, instruction is tailored to meet the students unique needs. Instruction can be at a slower or faster pace as needed. In a general education classroom, it is more difficult for the classroom teacher to speed up instruction to benefit the few students who excel with the presented material, which would ultimately leave the rest of the class behind. Similarly, if the teacher slowed the pace of instruction down until every single child fully understood it, some students would be left feeling bored and unchallenged. In addition, students in a special education setting will receive extended wait time, allowing them to process the information, as well as more frequent opportunities to respond due to the smaller class size. The classroom teacher’s I know do a phenomenal job but often feel overwhelmed because of the large class sizes with students of very different learning styles. Special education has smaller class sizes and can work with students through differentiated instruction.
2. Are Relentless with Learning
Often, when I share with others what I do for a living I am met with the response, “Oh wow, it takes a very special person to do that job. You must have a ton of patience.” Well, I am not under the impression that I have any more patience than any of my colleagues. However, I do have more opportunity to be patient. When working with a student, I have the good fortune of targeting in on that one specific student for at least 30 minutes a day depending on what is outlined in their IEP. No other distractions, no other concerns, just me and that student working on his goals and objectives. Therefore, I have the luxury of repeated trials. We can do something again and again and again until I see that flicker in their eyes letting me know the lightbulb has come on and they GET IT! (Which, on a side note, it is these moments that make my job as amazing as it is!) I can give that child as many opportunities as he or she needs and I can prolong instruction without feeling I need to “push through the curriculum.”
3. Provide Unique Approaches
Well, I feel the need to quote one of my mother-in-law’s favorite phrases, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Often, classroom teacher’s are trained in one strategy and are given directions to only use that strategy because it is evidence based and the district has shuffled out a lot of money to fund that strategy or program. When a student comes to my classroom, I have the ability to find a strategy that works for the student and use that one. I am not tied down to any one method. I can keep what’s working, and trash what is not. I collaborate with my colleagues so I can implement their same strategies for consistency and work hard to teach it to my students but can also supplement with my own material and golden nuggets of wisdom to give the child the extra “oomph” they need to succeed.
4. Behavior Tolerance
Managing 20+ children is HARD WORK! I’ll dare you to try it for a day. Classroom teacher’s are dealing with a lot. Most of them have determined a tried and true behavior management system that just works great for them. Most of the students succeed on that system and they have very few interruptions throughout their day. Until along comes “that” kid. Maybe “that” kid is your kid….he’s my nephew. In a special education setting, largely due to the smaller class size, behavior plans become individualized. Students receive immediate positive feedback that may be overlooked in that classroom of 20+ kiddos. Their accomplishments are recognized and they are praised for a job done well. I can tell you, I have celebrated a child holding it together when his pencil broke. To me, that was a BIG DEAL worth getting excited about. And when those naughty behaviors creep up, they can be recognized quicker and dealt with in a more effective way before we get to the point where the student feels out of control.