Special Education Teaching
This section will deal with a variety of common Special Education Teaching topics, including working with pupils who have Dyslexia, Speech and Language Delay, Autism and ADHD. I will discuss the varied needs of these pupils in relation to classroom discipline. Schools deal with Special Education in a variety of ways, although the most popular system is inclusion of all pupils within mainstream classrooms. This trend may bring added stress to teachers who already need to differentiate work for their pupils and can feel overwhelmed by the presence in their classes, of pupils with more complex learning needs. In general, schools will now employ Teaching Assistants and even some specialist teachers, to help with Special Education Teaching. These Assistants will regularly be in class, supporting individuals or groups of students with specific needs. It is up to the class teacher work productively with both the Teaching Assistants and the pupils with whom they work. For obvious reasons, this can be a daunting challenge for new teachers.
I have been lucky enough to work in Special Education Teaching for the past two years, and have seen how teachers can benefit from a productive working relationship with TA's. The skills involved are quite specific and tend not to be covered in any depth in many teacher training courses. In essence, you are being asked to understand and provide complex teaching and behavior strategies for a wide variety of abilities and aptitudes in your class. You are also required to effectively manage another adult in your classroom and proactively create a positive working relationship with them. If you rise to the challenge however, you may well drastically increase your own level of understanding of Special Education, enhancing and deepening your understanding of what teaching and learning can be. In addition, you may well learn extremely valuable management skills and find a helper who may also be a lifesaver!
Working with Teaching Assistants
I have devised this section on for both teachers and TA's, working in Special Education Teaching and have listed a number of the most positive approaches to working with Special Education Pupils. I will assume that you have an understanding of the basic premise of my approach to classroom discipline: that staff need to be able to raise their status in order for the pupils to 'buy into' their authority, whilst also creating rapport with individuals. Having rapport, means that pupils are far more likely to accept being disciplined by you without too much resistance as they trust you, and that they are far less likely to directly challenge someone that they both like and respect. These lessons are all the more relevant to Special Education Teaching, where the pupils are likely to be more vulnerable and emotionally volatile than their peers. Special Education Teaching will stretch your abilities as a subtle communicator and develop your all round teaching competency. In general terms, the phrase to remember is that 'What's good for Special Needs pupils is good for all pupils'. The more flexible you are as a communicator and a teacher, the better for you and your classes.
The following list relates to the book 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', a fantastic book by Stephen Covey. It is so good, that I only realized that I was using his principles after I had written a first draft of this advice! The specific principles are in bold as they occur. As you can imagine they apply to most situations in life as well as to Special Education Teaching.
1. Begin with the end in mind. Prioritize forming a positive working relationship together. Initiate a conversation and offer help in any way possible. Do this at the first meeting. Start as you mean to go on. Try to ascertain whether the teacher knows why you are there and for which pupils.
2. Put First Things First: know your pupils. It is vital in Special Education Teaching, for both parties to be aware and to discuss the specific needs of individual pupils. If a TA can be proactive in gathering information but also informing the teacher of the pupil's strengths as well as weaknesses then all the better. How does the pupil do in other subject areas? What works well for that pupil?
3. Seek first to understand, then be understood,.
with the teacher by pacing them before you try to lead. Sit back and observe their teaching style and their expectations and routines. Support them by modeling good student behavior; listening attentively, quieting others when the teacher is talking, raising your hand if you want to participate in a discussion. Be trustworthy, reliable, punctual, helpful and resourceful. Prove all of these things before you attempt to offer advice or take a more dynamic role in Special Education Teaching.
4. Think win/win.Rarely confront misbehavior directly unless it is extreme. More often than not, if pupils simply lose focus, it is better to refocus them on the learning rather than focus directly on the misbehavior. Ask re-focusing questions: How much have you done? Do you need any help?. Work towards an optimum teacher/pupil relationship by deferring more serious discipline problems to the teacher unless you are asked otherwise. Of course you may be used to disciplining and sanctioning pupils in class as any other member of staff would. This all depends on the institution. If this is the case, be sure that the class teacher is aware of and supports this.
5. Synergize. Two pairs of eyes are better than one. Work as a team to manage more of the class more of the time. Develop a good relationship by making suggestions about content and activities, differentiation of resources and rewards or sanctions.
6. Sharpen the Saw. Be aware if any party is down, tired, de-motivated, over-stimulated or bored and factor that in when responding to behavior. Keep yourself healthy and motivated. Go on courses relating to Special Education Teaching. Ask questions and challenge yourself.
Managing conflict and problem areas
One of the most useful tools in managing any conflict is the Perceptual Positions Exercise that I outlined in the
section of this site. I would suggest revisiting that section before reading on.
Here is how I would suggest applying it to any situation where there seems to be conflict between any of the three parties involved in Special Education Teaching: the class teacher, the TA or the pupil. Although the exercise usually involves two people and an observer position, in conflicts such as these there tends to be some involvement by all parties, so I advise taking four positions. I will try to outline some of the concerns which may affect each party and express these as 'I':
POSITION ONE: CLASS TEACHER UNHAPPY WITH TA
'I am just getting a handle on managing this class/that child.'
'I don't feel confident with my behavior management at the moment.'
'I feel judged by this person and uncomfortable with them in the room.'
'I have no management experience and don't know how to instruct them.'
'I can just about deal with setting boundaries for kids in my classroom, but adults?'
'I have been told nothing about TA's or their job.'
'If I ignore the situation I won't have to deal with it.'
'This person is better/worse than I am at behavior management and that makes me feel....'
POSITION TWO: TA UNHAPPY WITH TEACHER/PUPIL
'I see this class/that child with lots of different teachers and I know which ones they behave for and why.'
'I wouldn't let my own children do that.'
'I'm not doing my job if I let them get away with that behavior.'
'I feel embarrassed to be in the room.'
'I don't know if I should offer help/if it would work.'
'If only all teachers consistently applied the discipline policy.'
'I don't like the way this pupil is speaking to me.'
'I would like some support from you in managing this pupil.'
'I don't think you know why I am here or how to use me. '
'Haven't you been trained?'
'I don't feel that you understand this child/this group's needs'
PUPIL UNHAPPY WITH TEACHER/TA
' The TA is not my teacher so why should I listen to her?'
'I like the TA but not the teacher. I'll play one off against the other.'
'I don't like having a Special Needs label.'
'I need help but I don't want everyone to know about it.'
'Why can't the teacher control the class?'
'Why doesn't the teacher know how to teach me or help me?'
'The teacher hates me and is always picking on me.'
'The TA hates me and is always picking on me.'
FOURTH POSITION: OBSERVER
'The pupil needs to feel understood and liked by the adults.'
'They need to have their learning needs understood but treated sensitively.'
'The pupil seems to react emotionally and jump to conclusions otherwise'
'They need the teacher to be in control of the class.'
'The teacher may need support but not know how to ask for it.'
'The TA may need support but not know how to ask for it.'
'The adults need to work together and communicate well.'
'The pupils need to get a single coherent message about both learning and behavior from the adults.'
I am not suggesting that there is a magic wand to solve all of the above issues, but simply that for the adults to be able to see the situation from the the other person's perspective can be invaluable. For example, the teacher may understand that they need to apply school sanctions more severely and may even ask the TA to help them do this by keeping a look out, reporting poor behavior or even dealing with it themselves. If it is a learning issue, the TA may decide to seek more information on a particular pupil's needs and ask colleagues for teaching strategies that she can pass on. Problems however are bound to occur in Special Education Teaching, when there is little training provided for the adults in understanding each other's roles and responsibilities in the classroom. Remember that with the perceptual positions exercise, you do not necessarily need to have all parties present for it to work. Being able to imaginatively 'walk in someone else's shoes' for a brief moment is all that's needed to gain the necessary insight into the complicated dynamics of Special Education Teaching.
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