I can remember the first time I taught students with special needs. I was teaching fourth and fifth graders, twelve students with IEPs had been placed with me. Despite the fact that I had a certification in Special Education, I was absolutely clueless. I mean, I had seen the students’ IEPs, but I didn’t really know how to interpret them. I was introduced to another teacher, the paraprofessional teacher who would accompany these students to class every day, but I wasn’t sure what her role was or what shape our relationship was supposed to take.
And needless to say, that year was an absolute training experience for me. The paraprofessional teacher was very kind and knowledgeable, her contributions were immeasurable. I felt that I didn’t serve those twelve kids well because I knew nothing about how to manage a class with such a wide range of disabilities and needs.
In spite of my lack of knowledge I survived that year. I can only imagine how different things could have been if I did not know someone like the paraprofessional teacher. I would listen to her when she spoke about how she dealt with a student’s misbehavior one particular day, and just listening to the love in her voice and the careful way she handled this student’s feelings, told me she was the kind of teacher I wanted to know. Once I realized her work, I focused primarily on special ed, an area I haven’t given nearly enough attention to, I knew I had to model her behavior minutely and hourly every day. Somethings I learned and would love to share are listed below.
Express your fears and concerns.
When we think about making our classrooms more accessible, we tend to think primarily in terms of the physical space. You could have the most accessible classroom in terms of space and lighting, but if you don’t have an accessible attitude, your classroom’s not accessible. I believe “inaccessible” attitudes stem from fear, from the discomfort of being assigned to work with a child with special needs and feeling ill-equipped to do so. Fast forward three years later, I shared a coteaching classroom (regular and special education students) with another teacher who had never worked with special education students. I realized that the fears that I encountered were surfacing through my coteacher. After much collaboration we were able to put aside all fears and accomplished our academic goals.
During one of my doctoral research, one of the articles reported that the key to breaking through this is to admit your fears and talk to someone who can help. “You have to admit if you’re nervous, and you have to admit if you have worries". Then you can find the right people who could help you get over those fears.” The
study made recommendations such as: The first person you should consult is your coteacher. The other person to confide in is the support specialist at your school. This was something I didn’t really do as a new classroom teacher, and now I can’t even imagine why not? This is someone who is there to provide support for the students, and they understand a lot about inclusion and integration and program planning for these students.
As a former Special Education teacher, I have seen this happen quite often in an Integrated Coteaching Classroom (ICT). Most of the times the Regular Education teachers are not adequately trained or prepared to teach students with special needs. When these students are placed in their classrooms, temporary or permanently, often times the teacher unintentional behavior becomes "inaccessible" driven from fear. When this occur, sometimes this situation does not end in a happy medium between teacher and student.
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