Special Education is Special

I started my teaching career as a Multiple Subject Elementary Teacher. When I moved to the Central Coast, the only teaching job available was in Special Education, which meant I would need to acquire a second credential. I could have waited for a position in general education, but I was asked if I would consider teaching students with disabilities and work toward another credential. I didn’t share that I had a disability myself. It was challenging to work full-time and take courses in the evening, but I did it.

My class was comprised of 12 students with mild to moderate learning disabilities.
A little boy with hydroencephalitis had the most contagious smile. A girl in class who was nonverbal would squeal to show her enthusiasm for story time. Every student worked hard for the smallest of gains. It was the most challenging job I have ever had. It was also where I learned to teach. I thought I knew how to construct lesson plans, but faced with a variety of learning needs meant that I had to craft lessons for individual needs based on assessment, interest and learning styles. Academics were only one hurdle.

My students were often bullied on the playground for their physical challenges as well as inability to pick up on social cues. I had to create a way to protect my students when I wasn’t near to intervene. I taught them to say, “ I know what you look like and if you don’t leave me alone, I will report you.” Empowering them
was a priority. We had class meetings to learn social skills.

I quickly learned that some parents lacked the skills to help their child at home. I started an after-school Parent Club to provide an opportunity to model what was taught in class. One time I only had one parent show up. She shared with me that she never learned to tell time, so she couldn’t help her son. It took such courage to disclose something that personal. I also set up a clothes closet in the classroom so parents could pick out things that fit their children. My time as a special ed teacher was the most rewarding time in my career as an educator.

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