Becoming a Special Education Teacher
Dr. Nasir Sulman
Department of Special Education
University of Karachi
What Does A Special Education Do?
Beethoven was deaf. Helen Keller was blind. And none other than Albert Einstein had Asperger’s syndrome. Along with their disabilities, these historical figures had at least one other thing in common: They had great teachers.
Employed by schools at all levels, special education teachers work with students who have mental, emotional, or physical disabilities. That includes everything from speech impediments, hearing impairments, and physical handicaps to autism, emotional disabilities, and Down syndrome.
Because they require special needs and attention, students with disabilities are assigned to a classroom where they typically benefit from smaller class sizes, modified curricula, and more one-on-one instruction. Like all teachers, one can create lesson plans; assign homework, and grade tests. However, instead of traditional teaching methods, teacher use techniques that cater to his/her students’ special needs.
While general-education teachers teach standardized curricula, for instance, special education teacher teach individualized ones. In fact, where both systems differ most as a special education teacher from general-education teachers is in the development and execution of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. Tailor-made for an individual student, an IEP sets educational goals and milestones based on the student’s unique needs and abilities.
In short, special education teacher:
- Works with students who need extra learning help
- Changes lesson plans to meet the students’ abilities and needs
There is a prevalent opinion that the teachers of exceptional children should first be educated as regular teachers and have experience in teaching normal children. To become teachers of exceptional children they should specialize in some area of the education of exceptional children. With regular classroom background and additional specialized training, they would then be qualified to teach the appropriate classes of exceptional children.
Although, teaching experience before specializing in the education of exceptional children is desirable, there are practical limitations to the acceptance of this rule as a requirement in all instances. Some of the difficulties inherent in such a programme are:
1. Successful school teachers in many cases desire to remain in a teaching area in which they are secure because of their success.
2. Because of the shortage of school teachers, mostly are reluctant to to change to special fields.
3. The areas of specialization are not the same for all groups of exceptional children, and the amount of training needed varies with different groups.
4. Teachers who have changed from regular classroom teaching to special class room teaching for sentimental rather than professional reasons have not always been successful as teachers of exceptional children.
The co-operation of all concerned to the child’s welfare is necessary for a teacher. Such teacher must have a basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology of human body. The teacher must keep abreast of the advances in medicine, illumination, physical equipment, and educational material and must be familiar with the most approved methods of teaching.
The special teacher must recognize the possible psychological and emotional disturbances that may result from conflicts and inhibitions within the child himself and from the attitude of those with whom he/ she come in contact. In order to that, the teacher may guide the child in making decisions and developing resourcefulness. S/he must know not only the child’s physical and mental possibilities and limitations but also his desires and interests pertaining to his/ her present and future undertakings. The teacher must realize that, in addition to the problems incident to the growing up process which all children must learn to solve, any marked deviation from normal growth and development may rise to special problems. These will differ according to the types of difficulties from which the children suffer.
Importance of Training
Thus, children with special problems require teachers with special skills and abilities. These do not come without much study and preparation. Pre-service education and in-service study are both important. Realizing the importance of general education techniques as well as techniques needed for special children, only such training to the teachers will make them efficient in inclusive education. No programme of special education should be carried on in a school without a plan for the improvement of instruction on the part of all teachers.
An analysis of the aforesaid discussion clearly reveals the importance of teacher in the education of special children and the complexity of roles to be played by them whether they are in general education classrooms or special education classrooms. To be successful in the classrooms, the teachers require certain qualifications and characteristics. It is generally assumed that the personal qualifications of the teachers are much the same for all teachers regardless of the specific position.
Abilities of Special Education Teachers
Symonds (2007) states for e.g., that the teacher should a) like teaching, b) be personally secure, have self respect, dignity and courage, c) identify himself with the children, d) accept pace of learning (e) be free from anxiety and f) have creative mind. These traits or characteristics apply equally to teachers of exceptional children. The following abilities needed to be a special education teacher:
- Understand teaching methods for those with special educational needs
- Talk easily with others
- Be sensitive to the special needs of students
- Motivate students
- Be emotionally stable and mature
- Understand and accept the difference in others
- Have maximum capacity for self-direction
- Be resourceful and willing to try uncharted methods
- Need to provide the class with a physical and academic structure conducive to learning.
- Need to be self-assured in decisions and leave no room for self-doubt
- Focus on noticing the positive feedback
- Need to offer hope and encouragement in difficult situations
The Anatomy of a Special Education Teacher
The key competencies of special education teachers include:
- Assessing students’ skills to determine their needs and developing teaching plans to meet those needs
- Working with other educators to develop individualized learning plans (IEPs) for special needs students
- Provide students with one-on-one teaching and mentoring time
- Communicate the students’ progress to parents and other educational stakeholders
- Supervising teaching assistants and other classroom resource professionals
- Providing education, support, and training to help students prepare for advancement to the next grade level