They say that teaching is a thankless job – not only are teachers underpaid, but many of them dedicate countless hours of their free time to do extra work for their students. Being a teacher in general can be very difficult, but being a special needs teacher comes with its own unique set of challenges. Whether you are a special needs teacher or the parent of a special needs child, keep reading to learn some helpful tips for making the most of your child’s education.
What are the Challenges of Working with Special Needs Students?
Compared to most other professions, the burn-out rate for special needs teachers is extremely high – approximately 50% of special education teachers leave their jobs within just 5 years. Teaching is a difficult and stressful career in and of itself, but special education adds an extra layer of difficulty. Some of the biggest challenges of working with special needs students are as follows:
- Lack of parental support. You can pour your heart and soul into your efforts as a special education teacher but if the child’s parents are not on board, all of that work could be for nothing. Having a positive relationship with the parents of your students is essential.
- Lack of appreciation. Teachers do not teach because it is a prestigious or high-paying career – they do it for love of the students. Still, a little appreciation goes a long way, especially in a challenging and stressful field like special education.
- Too much paperwork. Every special needs child needs an Individual Education Plan (or IEP) and each one can easily reach 10 to 20 pages long. Not only do these plans take time to develop, but there is a lot of documentation that needs to take place. This is all on top of your regular teaching duties which include curriculum planning, progress reports, lesson planning, and more.
- Scheduling challenges. Many special needs students have special schedules for their school day depending which classes they are able to take and taking into account their needs for additional services like occupational or speech therapy.
- Working with other teachers. As a special education teacher you have to develop your own curriculum for your students, but you also need to know the general education curriculum so you can work with your students to help them with their regular classes. Collaborating with other teachers can be very difficult, especially if they do not understand the challenges of special education.
- Too much documentation. In addition to developing each student’s IEP, you also need to collect data and provide evidence of student growth. If you claim that your student is struggling in a particular area, you need hard data to back up that claim and then you need to develop a plan for improvement.
Every situation is different so, as a special needs teacher, you may struggle with some of these challenges more than others. To help make your job as a special education teacher easier – and to ensure that your special needs students get the help they need – follow the parenting and teaching tips provided in the next two sections.
Teaching Tips for Students with Special Needs
Each and every special needs child is an individual so your teaching style will be dictated by the unique challenges each child faces. To help you succeed in teaching special needs students in general, however, you should consider the following five teaching tips:
- Keep your classroom organized. Structure is very important for special needs students and it can be very helpful for you as a special education teacher. Whether you have one student to keep track of or twenty, sticking to a daily routine as much as possible will help both you and your students. Keeping your classroom organized will also help to minimize stress and distractions.
- Remember that each child is an individual. Every special needs student is unique so try to get to know your students as individuals instead of identifying them by their diagnosis. As a special education teacher you may be responsible for developing IEPS – not only are these a federal requirement, but they can be a helpful tool for you and the child’s parents to come together to create an education plan that works for everyone.
- Give your students opportunities for success. Maintaining a positive outlook is incredibly important in a field as challenging as special education. Some days will be harder than others and some students will progress more slowly than others. Encourage your students to work hard and to improve by offering opportunities for small successes and then celebrate those successes.
- Create a support network. As a special education teacher, you will need to be able to work with your students’ general education teachers as well as his therapists and parents. The more you communicate with everyone, the easier things will be and the more your student will benefit.
- Keep things simple. When it comes to teaching special needs students, it is important to break down tasks into small, manageable steps – you should also keep projects short and sweet. The more complicated you make things, the more likely your students are to become confused or frustrated and that adds to the challenges you are already facing.
Tips for Parents of Special Needs Children
Even if you are not responsible for your child’s education, there are still things you can do as the parent of a special needs child to make things easier on your child’s teacher and to ensure that your child gets a quality education. Below you will find five helpful tips for parenting a special needs child:
- Manage your expectations. Even if your child has a specific diagnosis, he is still an individual and you cannot expect him or his behavior to fit neatly in a box. Take into account the reports you get from your child’s teacher and do your part in pushing your child to succeed, just don’t push too hard.
- Celebrate small accomplishments. For some special needs students, every day is a struggle and improvements may not come easily. The more you learn about your child’s individual challenges, the better you will be able to identify small successes and, when they happen, they are worth celebrating!
- Partner with your child’s teacher. In order for your special needs child to get the education he needs, you need to partner with his teacher to bridge the gap between home life and school life. Study your child’s IEP so you understand what is happening while your child is at school and ask his teacher what you can do to support his education at home.
- Stick to a daily routine. For many special needs children, sticking to a predictable daily routine is a great way to reduce stress and to minimize challenges. If you stick to a daily routine, that is one less thing you have to worry about.
- Take care of yourself. Being the parent of a special needs child can be exhausting and you won’t do your child any good if you don’t take care of yourself. Be there for your child when he needs it, but don’t forget to take a little time for yourself each day.
Whether you are a special education teacher or the parent of a special needs child, you will face an endless array of challenges throughout the course of the child’s educational career. Being realistic about these challenges and preparing yourself for them will make your life infinitely easier and it will benefit your special needs student as well.