I was recently asked by a colleague to answer some questions regarding my job as a special education teacher. I thought I would share with others and FEEL FREE TO ANSWER yourself by leaving a comment!!
1) Please introduce yourself. What are your certifications in? What grade do you teach? How many students are in your class?
My name is Diana. I am dual certified in Elementary education and Special Education. I currently teach in a self contained class room grades K-3 (K-3 MD).
For the summer ESY program I have 7 students. Last year I had a total of 6. I am uncertain the number for the upcoming year.
2) What inspired you to want to become a special education teacher? My brother He was autistic, non verbal, and the most amazing person in the world! He taught me patience, determination, hard work and dedication. He also showed me that it does not matter what people think or say, you need to love yourself and make yourself happy first. While we were growing up , special education was very new. Not much was known about autism. Early intervention was non existent. I often wish that my brother grew up today so because he would have been so successful and possibly have been able to speak. Communication was difficult and frustrating for him BUT I knew he loved me and my family more than anything, without having to say any words at all. He inspired me to become fascinated with autism as well as have a special understand of my students on the spectrum.
3) What aspects of special education do you find most interesting and why? I absolutely love learning about ASD. I think it is fascinating and my students amaze me each day. I have come to understand that students with ASD think differently than us. We always want to change students on the spectrum BUT in fact, we should really be thinking about how WE can think differently so that we can communicate better with the numerous students on the spectrum.
4) What do you find most challenging about being a special education teacher? Support. Home, school and society. It is not a job. It is my life. I can NOT leave my work at work like some people. People and children are always on my mind. It is difficult to let go and not think about students, problems, etc. Also, without support from administration and families, our work in the classroom is not as meaningful as it should be. Trying to do too much. Its difficult to leave work at work when students and children are involved. Some days I really go home and just want to be alone. I get so much energy taken from me on a daily basis because my students are extremely needy. Some days I feel like a teacher, friend, role model and parent. I love it but it def. can be exhausting BUT I find ways to unwind and relax. For me, a lot of time alone works best!! Also hikes, bike rides, being with my pup, coffee coffee and more coffee
5) What materials have you found to be most successful in teaching students with disabilities? Anything hands on, manipulatives, real life examples, pictures, picture schedules. Teaching in a way that uses MULTIPLE methods to ensure the students are really connecting. The ipad is a great resource, both serving as a motivator and a great supplemental tool. The ipad is also something the students can do independently which is extremely important. I really love the Me Moves video relaxation set, handwriting without tears, and the Edmark sight word reading program.
6) How do you motivate students to complete difficult assignments and tasks? Many of my students work really well with FIRST/THEN charts. “First we need to write our name, then you get to play on the ipad”. By allowing the students to make a choice of desired activity, really motivates them to complete and strive to improve on more difficult or not ideal tasks. I find my students have a lot of control issues. I like to provide my students with 2 choices and let them pick. This wa Many of my students work really well with FIRST/THEN charts. “First we need to write our name, then you get to play on the ipad”. By allowing the students to make a choice of desired activity, really motivates them to complete and strive to improve on more difficult or not ideal tasks. I find my students have a lot of control issues. I like to provide my students with 2 choices and let them pick. This way they are still completing the task however have their own sense of control by having a choice. Each student is unique and different. What works for one may often times not work for another. Its trial and error.
7) How do you encourage socially acceptable behavior from your students? I will teach in the moment. If I see something that needs to be addressed, we will stop and discuss the topic. We will model, watch, discuss and think of better ways to handle the situation. Many students on the spectrum have no idea things they do may be socially unacceptable. Students and children need to be taught through experiences and modeling of appropriate behavior. Students also need to be taught techniques and methods to use in various situations. I provide a lot of positive feedback and praise when I see my students doing appropriate things. This gives them the confidence and satisfaction to strive to want to do it again and again. Also many of my students are unaware of what is and isn’t socially acceptable. I really enjoy creating activities that involve socialization and try to correct and brainstorm ways to immediately fix a situation that may not be appropriate. I also lead a social skills program in which I incorporate important daily life skills mixed in with socialization, communication, game playing, etc.
8) How do you teach reading and language arts to your special education students? What type of curriculum do you use? I use a variety of materials and curriculum. I do not and can not have a set curriculum because the dynamics of my room change constantly. Sometimes even on a daily basis! The method I found that works best is having my students work in small groups and centers. I will explain and provide my students with independent activities while I work with individual students or small groups on similar goals. I really like the Edmark reading program. It is a very discrete program. It is basic. It teaches sight words, comprehension and spelling. The program provides consistency and repetition, something which all of my students enjoy. For reading, I really like the reading a to z program. It is an online program which you can choose levels and topics and stories. The site provides various topics of interest which can serve multiple purposes in the classroom. It also provides worksheets, ideas, topics, etc which can be used as a skeleton in customizing your own program. The main thing I stress is practice and consistency.
9) What instructional strategies and methods do you use in teaching reading to your students? Once again this varies per student. What works well with one student may not with another. Small groups, teaching in multiple ways, providing hands on experiences are all things that work universally. My students love and strive to work when they receive positive support. It gives them the confidence they need to keep working and improving. Small groups with minimal distraction is also very important. I encourage independent reading which the students can read to themselves, a friend or a stuffed animal. This gives them the satisfaction of having an audience, independence and practice (without even knowing). Many students have difficulty with comprehension. I find breaking stories and paragraphs into small sections and thoroughly discussing prior to moving on is extremely important. This ensures comprehension and that my students are not just reading the words on the page.
10) Have you ever used the critical reading inventory in assessing your students in reading?
I have not used it in my current classroom. I have used it when I was student teaching and also to assess some students I tutor in the summer. The CRI is not an appropriate assessment tool for my current student population.