December 2 is Special Education Day. This day was named 11 years ago to acknowledge that on December 2, 1975, the first federal special education legislation was signed into law by then President Gerald Ford. Because Teacher Peach is all about teachers, we are sharing a first-person story from one amazing special education teacher. Her recollections show how she discovered that special education was her passion. The teachers committed to these amazing students each have unique stories and paths that have led them to this very important aspect of education, making Special Education Day an everyday occurrence for every one of them.
My Special Path to Joy—Special Education*
My interest in pursing a career in special education began when I was an unassuming high school senior. I needed one more credit to graduate. My advisor suggested I do an independent study that would incorporate an opportunity to volunteer in the community. After being handed a list of possible volunteer options, one in particular stood out. It involved children, which I knew I enjoyed. It also involved working with the special education population with which I had no previous experience.
I became a volunteer at the local YMCA in an after-school gymnastics class for children with disabilities. A man, who could only be described as a dynamo, coached the class. He was an energetic, kind, and motivating coach. Most of the students were children with Down syndrome. Becoming committed, I stayed on long after my independent study hours were completed. Through this positive experience, my interest was sparked and my career path was chosen.
I received a bachelor of education degree in elementary and special education and obtained a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis on teaching the deaf and hard of hearing. During my undergraduate work, I worked with individuals with developmental disabilities and children with special health care needs through research, clinical service, professional training sessions, family workshops, and advocacy. I was able to work with infants and toddlers along with their families.
One day, I had the chance to observe an art classroom filled with deaf children. The art teacher didn’t seem to know sign language though the children were signing to one another. They were rowdy, running circles around the harried teacher. I found it very fascinating and instantly fell in love with the kids. It was at that moment that I decided that I wanted to teach deaf children. So I set out to learn sign language, quickly enrolling in classes.
In my first teaching position, there was a program for children identified as having a hearing impairment. I worked on IEP goals and was a resource for the regular classroom teachers. The second year, I had a wonderful self-contained classroom of four deaf children that also had mild cognitive disabilities. My third and fourth years were an amazing experience. Two deaf little girls and one hard of hearing boy were ready to be mainstreamed into a regular education classroom. To help their transition, I was asked to team teach the children along with the regular education classroom teacher. Both of us were responsible for educating both the hearing and non-hearing students. I taught in this role and was with the same three children for second and third grade.
Fourteen years after having my family, I returned to teaching. This time, I was hired to teach children with cognitive disabilities and quickly began to love it. For the next eight years, I taught children ages 5 to 10 with varied significant disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, Williams syndrome (and several other genetic syndromes), and severe behavioral disorders. I found out that using sign language with these children was a great advantage for them as many were nonverbal, regardless of hearing abilities. I enjoyed teaching this diverse population. Unfortunately, our jobs were phased out due to budget cuts and the kids were transferred
I was ultimately offered a teaching position by a supervisor in the special education program in another distant suburb. I became a resource teacher to work with children with learning disabilities/ADHD, etc. in first through third grades. I worked with the children in individual settings, small groups, and in the regular education classrooms, becoming familiar with RTI. I enjoyed being a resource teacher very much. I was then asked to teach the children in the district that had significant cognitive disabilities. I was happy to do it and we had a great year. Then, the economic situation in the schools hit hard and the district had to let go of all their non-tenured teachers, which included me since I was just a third-year teacher.
So I was in search of kids who needed me, yet again. I learned there was a need for a signing teacher’s assistant to work with two hearing impaired children at a local school. I interviewed and got the position. I formed a strong bond with the two girls and the rest of the children in the classroom. At the end of the year, I was hired as a sign language interpreter/assistant for a little girl in the fourth grade with a cochlear implant. Because she also had a learning disability, she was placed in a special education classroom. After she made progress, she was moved out of the deaf program and into her home district. I loved working with all children no matter the challenges!
Top Five Ways Special Education Teachers Succeed
The most important attribute of any outstanding special education teacher is an ability to connect with children, both emotionally and academically. These are my top five ways to achieve this goal—
- A special education teacher should have clear objectives with appropriate goals within a framework, while remaining flexible in differentiating how to achieve these goals—to meet the unique needs of each child.
- Special education teachers, like all teachers, need to engage and motivate a wide range of students. Developing creative ways of reaching every child is the challenge that every teacher must face head-on—every day.
- Special education teachers must have the ability to communicate equally effectively with their students, families, and colleagues.
- Providing a safe and nurturing classroom environment for students is a must. Special education teachers can accomplish this through creativity, organization, structure, and models. Special education teachers encourage the behaviors they strive to impart to children.
- In the field of special education, it’s important to know as much about the students as possible. Special education teachers need knowledge of all aspects of each child’s health, development, and educational experiences. These will all factor into decisions on how best to design an educational plan specifically for that child.
My greatest inspiration comes from motivating a child to learn something new—no matter how small the objective. I wouldn’t trade my special education teacher experiences for anything!
*This article was excerpted from a longer article written expressly for Teacher Peach by seasoned special education teacher, Joy U.
Special Products for Special Education
These Teacher Peach products are particularly popular with special education teachers. As Joy said so eloquently above, reaching EACH child is so very important in any educational setting, and even more so in a special education classroom. The Teacher Peach product line that underscores this commitment to the uniqueness of every student can be found on a tote bag, laptop case, and two-way journal. These products are wonderful additions to any teacher’s wishlist, too.
Fidgets for Your Digits™
These authentic Tangle® fidget puzzles are a perfect tool for anyone who focuses more clearly when giving their digits something to do! They are a functional and entertaining addition to any classroom, office space, back seat, or family room. It’s fun—and helpful—for students to transform these Tangles into countless shapes!
These digit-twisters make a fabulous classroom tool to engage the mind and enhance a student’s ability to listen.
Fidgets for Your Digits™ make a great gift for students, families, teachers, classrooms, aides, student companions, or anyone who loves puzzles. They are available in royal blue or rainbow pattern.
De-stress with Teacher Peach’s student-centric stress balls. Durable enough to squeeze and soft enough to be safe, these stress balls are for everyone. Each set of stress balls has different messages and some within a set may have a slightly different strength, too, so you can really choose a stress ball to best fit your needs. With fun shapes, colors, and messages, you’ll surely find the ideal stress ball to focus and inspire your students.
For more about Special Education Day, check out this article: Special Education Day Is December 2!
How does your school support and acknowledge its special education teachers? Are there any products you can think of that Teacher Peach could explore creating to help support these teachers and kids even more? Let us know below.