Dr. Teresa Little, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Specialized Education Services (SES) department and a recipient of the 2013-2014 Distinguished Career Award from the UNCG School of Education, provides a description of a typical day in the life of a special education teacher, and the qualities and skills one must possess in order to become successful in the field.
The special qualities and skills needed to become a successful special education teacher
- Collaboration is key… Special education teachers must demonstrate collaborative skills when working with school and community professionals who provide services to students with disabilities. They often serve as facilitators and must be able to work collaboratively with parents/guardians, general education teachers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, guidance counselors, group home providers, etc. They must develop collaborative relationships with families which are based on mutual respect. Additionally, special education teachers must actively involve students and their families when making school-related decisions.
- Advocacy is an extremely important quality for special education teachers to possess. They must continually advocate for conditions and resources that will improve learning outcomes of their students and promote inclusive participation with their peers in schools and the community. They should advocate for improvements in special education laws, regulations, and policies. And, they should disseminate professional materials to their peers and families and should make sure these stakeholders are informed of current educational trends in the field of special education.
- Special education teachers must use research-based evidence to inform practice. They must have a clear understanding of the Common Core State Standards and must know how to implement effective instructional strategies. And, because these teachers are licensed to teach K-12, they must be able to deliver instruction for multiple content areas over multiple grade levels while maintaining high expectations.
Typical Day in the Life of a Special Education Teacher
This blog follows the activities of a typical day in the life of a special educator who teaches students with mild to moderate disabilities. The resource teacher being featured teaches at an elementary school and typically follows two instructional delivery models. During a portion of the day, Ms. Jackson provides specially-designed small group instruction in a pull-out model where the students leave the general education setting and receive a portion of educational services with Ms. Jackson. She also spends part of the day in an inclusive setting co-teaching with a general education teacher where they implement the following co-teaching models: 1) parallel teaching-both teachers teaching the same material at the same time to 2 groups; 2) station teaching-both teachers teaching different content at the same time to two equal groups, then switch groups; 3) alternative teaching-one teacher remediates a small group while the other works with a larger group; and 4) one teaching/one monitoring-one teacher instructs the whole class while the other circulates.
7:45 am-8:30 am
Each day I arrive early for bus duty (or cafeteria duty, or car rider duty, or whatever the duty is for the week). Most of the time, things usually go smoothly; but today there was a major traffic jam in front of the school. (This usually happens when it rains).
8:30 am-9:00 am
The tardy bell rang and the day officially began, but instead of going to my room, I met Daniel, a fourth grader, in the main office so I could help him with leading the Pledge of Allegiance and reading the morning announcements. Since I am a resource teacher and I see Daniel four times a week, we practiced for an entire week. (But he was still a little nervous). The principal, Mrs. Richardson, began the announcements with her usual positive quote of the day while I practiced one more time with Daniel. He did an incredible job of leading the Pledge and reading the announcements. I congratulated Daniel on his success and went to my room to make sure I was ready for the day.
9:00 am-9:45 am
My group of 5 students arrived a little late but they quickly got started on the peer editing assignment. For the past 3 weeks, they have been working on writing a short story about the adventures of an elementary school student who gets transported back to the 1800’s. Since they are in grades 3, 4, and 5 and their writing skills are varied, it’s been a challenge but the students are getting better at reviewing each other’s work and providing constructive feedback. (Once they complete a final draft, I will display their work in the media center along with other stories published by their peers).
9:45 am-10:30 am
With this group of 4 students, I mainly focus on integrating science with their reading. Today I spent most of our time reviewing for the upcoming unit test they are having in Ms. Johnson’s third grade class. They really got confused on some of the vocabulary so we made flashcards which they took home to help with studying.
It’s uncommon that I have an IEP (individualized education program) meeting in the morning, but Betty’s parents were both able to leave their jobs and meet at this time. (Betty’s 5th grade teacher, the speech therapist, and an administrator also attended). We discussed Betty’s progress regarding her current IEP and developed new goals and objectives. Her parents asked lots of questions about middle school and wanted to know what would happen to Betty following graduation. The speech therapist and I were able to address most of their concerns.
Since the meeting went longer than usual, I had to quickly eat my yogurt on my way to Mrs. Anderson’s fifth grade class. We’ve been co-teaching during this block for almost 3 years. That first year was a little awkward and I’m sure it was hard for her to “share” her classroom with a total stranger. (It’s a shame we only found out about working together a week before the students arrived but we somehow managed to collaborate and the year went well).
The students were really excited about today because we continued our lesson on predicting upcoming weather events from weather data collected through observation and measurements. After developing graphs, they worked in small groups and shared their results.
1:30 pm-2:15 pm
For this group of 6 students I typically focus on specific math skills, but today I was able to integrate science as we read “How many seeds are in a pumpkin?” Through the reading of this book we were able to explore skip counting and estimation through the use of a classroom experiment. After completing the book and following some discussion questions, we duplicated the experiment in the book. It was a little messy, but the students’ estimations were right on target. (Tomorrow we’ll develop a classroom bulletin board. I’ll display their graphs and will put up the pictures we took during today’s experiment).
2:15 pm-3:00 pm
As I am starting my final group of the day, I am called to the office by Mrs. Richardson because Maria had a “meltdown” in her class and had been removed from the room. I quickly sent the students back their classes (with my apologies to them and their teachers) and went to the office to talk with Maria. Per Maria’s behavior intervention plan (BIP), she is to review the BIP with me and/or the guidance counselor to determine what caused the “meltdown” and address next steps. It took longer than usual to get her back on track, but I was able to her settled down before the dismissal bell rang. (I’ll have to make sure to update Maria’s teacher tomorrow morning after leaving bus duty).
Bus duty. No major mishaps today; but I had to leave early so I can facilitate another IEP meeting.
This IEP meeting goes well. (I think it’s because Bernice has been receiving special education services for 3 years and her mother is very familiar with our program).
4:00 pm-4:45 pm
Planning with Mrs. Anderson. (We are starting a new science unit next week and really need to get started on developing lessons and materials). I also make follow-up telephone calls to determine if parent/guardians are attending IEP meetings and teacher conferences next week.
Leave for home.
What influenced you to go into the profession?
For as long as I can remember, I have always had the desire to teach. I suppose it started with the numerous life lessons provided by my parents as they stressed the belief that we must give back to the community and we must help those who are in need. The experience that finalized my decision to teach occurred in high school when the class requirement was to complete volunteer hours with a young child. I was assigned to work with Jacob, who was experiencing difficulty working with his peers and was beginning to fall behind in reading. As the school year progressed, I was able to help Jacob become successful in reading and I assisted him with building positive relationships with the other children in his class. This experience helped me realize my passion for helping children reach their academic and personal goals.
For more information on courses of study provided by the Specialized Education Services department in the UNCG School of Education, please visit http://ses.uncg.edu/.