Special education teacher programs are intense and teach prospective educators so much about teaching in the classroom.
However, just like in any profession, the on the job training (i.e., actually teaching in a classroom full of kids) is often more valuable than anything that a teacher studied in school. For teachers, the learning curve can make or break your classroom.
I asked veteran teachers to share some of the things that colleges don’t teach special education teachers. Their answers are insightful and provide an excellent reference point for student teachers and/or those who are entering their own classroom for the first time.
Top 10 Things that Colleges Don’t Teach SPED Teachers
1. The Impact of Trauma on Students
Trauma can play a huge role in students’ reactions and behavior in the classroom. As veteran teachers know, sometimes a student needs love a lot more than they need a lesson plan. Always consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs before Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. #MaslowbeforeBloom
2. How to Manage Paraprofessionals
Paras are an integral part of any special education classroom, but most colleges teach nothing about how to manage and work with them in the classroom setting. As this is mostly an on-the job learned skill, many new teachers struggle with knowing how to use paras and ways to build rapport with them.
Read more on how to manage and work well with support staff here.
3. How to Help General Education Teachers Understand What You Do
There’s often a divide between special and general education teachers. The fault is not entirely theirs… or ours. Colleges don’t prepare either side to work with the other or offer insight into why it’s so important to work as a team. Creating an open, supportive dialogue with your general ed colleagues is essential.
4. How to Handle the Emotional Toll of Working with Special Needs Students
There may be days when you get hit by students, when they destroy the classroom, when they say or do something that you could never prepare yourself for, and honestly… all of that takes an emotional toll on a teacher.
While colleges don’t teach you how to manage that, talk with other special education teachers (and join our Facebook group!) for support and to vent. Sometimes knowing that someone else has experienced the same things can help you get through.
5. How to Handle Bodily Fluids and Functions
You know it’s part of the job, but talking about it in school and experiencing bodily functions and fluids in the classroom is an entirely different thing.
6. How to Keep Up with the Paperwork
Special education teachers have a lot of paperwork. Learning how to organize and keep track of lesson plans, goals, and assessments can be overwhelming.
New teachers struggle with this the most, as learning how to create a system that works for you can take a few years to perfect. Let me show you my system and why it works so well for (and other teachers!).
7. The Amount of Advocating Needed
College classes make it seem as though everyone knows and follows the laws, but the reality is often far from the ideal. Many administrators are not well versed in special education law, so advocating for students is a must.
I highly recommend reading this book if you haven’t already. It’s the first one I recommend to parents and fellow teachers… it’s THAT good. You can find my full list of books for Special Ed teachers here.
8. How to Handle Violent Students
Colleges don’t often address the fact that some students will be violent toward their teacher, other students, and classroom property.
9. How to Deal with Difficult Parents
Parents of special education students can be different than parents of general education students. They have often had to fight for the best for the child and have had to deal with a lot of red tape. For special education teachers who are trying to do their best, these parents can be intimidating and seem aggressive.
Knowing ways to keep parents in the know definitely helps build rapport and keep communication open and respectful. Here are a few ways to work with parents and not against them.
College may teach you the theories and the laws, but the most important skill you can have as a special education teacher is the one thing they don’t teach – patience.
Whether you’re a first-year teacher or completing your 20th year in the classroom, there is nothing more valuable than classroom experience.
You will learn more in one day spent in the classroom compared to one day in a college class. Remember, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out for support and talk with the teachers around you. You are not alone.
What lessons did college not teach you about teaching? Tell us in the comments below!