Are We All Special Ed. Teachers?

This morning, I read this blog post by Royan Lee that really struck a chord with me.

I had every intention of commenting on Royan’s post, but the truth is, I need to do more than comment to share my thoughts and feelings on this topic. This post is my comment.

I know exactly what Royan’s talking about here. I’ve heard these remarks before. I have a friend that teaches a Primary Self-Contained Autism Class in our Board, and while I don’t think that I’ve ever said anything to her, I’ve likely had the same thoughts that Royan shared in his post. Hearing the thoughts shared as he did, makes me feel disappointed in myself for thinking this way. Because there’s more to consider here as well: we all teach students with special needs. 

This is my fifteenth year of teaching, and for almost all of those years, I’ve worked with an educational assistant in the classroom to support a variety of students with special needs.

  • Some students have physical limitations.
  • Some students have autism.
  • Some students have Down Syndrome.
  • Some students have behavioural needs.
  • Some students are non-verbal.

Their identification is a label. It’s a label that’s often needed to give these students the support that they need to succeed. I’m incredibly appreciative for all of the amazing educational assistants that I’ve worked with over the years that have helped support these students. Here’s something that I feel very strongly about though: even with the support of an educational assistant, it’s still my job to help program for all students — regardless of needs. It’s with this belief in mind and the choices I make in the classroom, that I’ve heard comments like this before …

  • I don’t know how you put up with all of the screaming.
  • What about the needs of the other students?
  • Does he/she really belong in here? What about a special class?
  • What about the school rules? Is it fair that there are different rules for different people?
  • Why does this child get to do whatever he/she wants?

Here are my thoughts on these comments. Some of them I’ve expressed before, and some of them, I wish that I did. Now, thanks to Royan, I will.

  • The screaming is how he/she communicates. The screaming will stop. I just need to take a deep breath, be patient, talk less, and use the visuals more. It will work, and in time, the screaming might not even happen anymore (or at least happen less frequently).
  • I meet the needs of all students. Many strategies that work for our neediest students also benefit other students. When we look at how to create predictable routines, chunk information, talk less, and provide more hands-on learning, all students succeed.
  • Special classes are wonderful for some students, but just because a child has special needs, doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she belongs in a special class. When students learn how to work with others with a variety of needs, they also learn patience, problem solving, compassion, and respect. These are important life lessons. 
  • I think that even our youngest learners can understand what equity means. I’ve taught JK/SK students before that I give everyone what he/she needs to do his/her best. Some students might get something that others don’t, and that’s okay. That’s what they need. Sometimes rules need to be flexible for some students because that’s what those students need to succeed.
  • No child is without expectations, but expectations might look different for different students. Yes, we have a curriculum, and I believe strongly in the value of curriculum expectations. But, I teach children first. I need to look at what my children need, and sometimes, other expectations need to trump academic ones (e.g., learning self-help skills). If we look closely at how we teach these skills and how we interact with students, I bet even the non-academic activities will actually meet academic expectations (e.g., sorting laundry for the wash may meet math expectations connected to data management).

Looking back at what I shared here, I think, to some extent, we are all Special Ed. teachers. In some way, we all teach students with special needs. Our students (and their parents) need to know that regardless of children’s needs that we believe in them, that we’ll program for them, and that we’re determined to see them succeed (and support them in their success). Do we all feel confident and skilled enough to teach in a self-contained class? Maybe not. And maybe that’s okay. But if we tell Special Ed. teachers that they’re saints, what are we saying about our own ability and/or devotion to teach students with special needs? What value are we giving to a label, and how is this impacting on our view of the child? I’m lucky to teach all students in my class, many of whom have different needs, and it’s the challenge to meet some of these needs that make me feel most successful of all. What about you?


2 thoughts on “Are We All Special Ed. Teachers?

  1. I am a special educator at the secondary level. I have advanced degrees and certifications in both English and Special Education. I have to admit that when I read the title of your post, it threw me for a loop. Of course we’re not all special educators…it takes extra schooling and a LOT of extra paperwork (for not nearly enough extra money). While general educators have to plan for all students, we also have caseloads and endless meetings.

    Then I read your blog, and you’re right. And I adore you for it!

    • Thank you so much for the comment and the kind words, Viv! I think it’s also important to note that special education teachers, like you and others, do have extra jobs and responsibilities, and I’m very grateful for all of the extras that you do. I do think it’s important though for classroom teachers to plan for and respond to the diverse needs of our students. Success really is possible for ALL.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *