7 Things You'll Learn Working with Students with Special Needs

teacher, special education teacher

Special education is a rewarding field with many benefits and challenges. As a teacher in this field, you'll face a variety of obstacles that require a particular kind of focus and patience, but within those experiences, you'll also receive a feeling of accomplishment. 

At NCU, we take great pride in offering future educators an opportunity to learn more about special needs students and what they can expect working in this environment. Not to mention, readers can implement their classroom studies throughout these teaching situations, preparing them for the future. 

More than anything, NCU believes in being prepared, so to give you a better idea of what the road ahead may look like, here are 7 things you'll learn working with students with special needs:

1. You Must be Patient

The old saying, "Patience is a virtue," has never been more true when applied to this setting. Working with special needs students requires a strong sense of understanding, having the wherewithal to accept that everyone's needs are different and that each person requires their own sort of attention. For example, a student may ask for your help completing a task, but then immediately shifts their focus onto another subject. Meanwhile, other students are demanding attention, potentially lashing out in their own way. If you're not careful, this pandemonium can lead to highly stressful situations, and the best thing you can do to alleviate the pressure is to remain calm and put out one fire at a time. This means that you take advantage of any extra assistance, get to know behavioral patterns, and utilize time management to compensate for any setbacks. 

Related Article - Understanding the Challenges that Come with Teaching Special Education

2. You'll be a Jack of All Trades

Essentially, your job as a special educator will require you to be familiar with all types of disabilities, as well as how to properly handle issues surrounding each one. On a daily basis, you may assume the roles of a teacher, a counselor, a support system, or an event coordinator. In addition to these changing jobs, you will interact with students who have a wide range of personalities and developmental struggles. One minute you might be assisting a child with a project, but then suddenly, another student may experience an episode that needs immediate attention. Also, at the end of the day, parents may consult with you about concerns or issues they may be experiencing at home. Keep in mind that many parents might lack the specialized training that you have gained over the years, and they may lean on you for guidance through difficult situations. Nonetheless, knowing that you will have many hoops to jump through will enhance your ability to adapt, as well as staying ahead of any future problems. 

3. Use Correct Language

Within any field related to disabilities, there are many words that should never be used. In the past, adopting a person-first language was accepted as the correct way to address those with disabilities, offering a form of respect that separates them from the disability itself. However, as time went on, a new form has emerged that places identity with the disability at the forefront of the conversation. Identity-first language has become a mainstream practice among disabled communities, adopting a personal claim to the circumstances one faces. That being said, both practices are still used when speaking and referring to others with disabilities, but knowing which one your students and parents prefer will help you become a better leader and advocate for everyone in the long run. 

4. Prioritize Behavioral Issues

It can be easy to get caught up in odd behaviors or outbursts when dealing with many students, but the trick is to prioritize behavioral issues into certain levels of importance and acceptance. For instance, if a student is exhibiting a behavior that doesn't warrant any major concern, it may best for you to overlook it so as to not take away time and energy from situations that are more pressing. Just think, if you wasted time catering to every single issue that surfaces, you will most likely fall behind in schedule or make little to no progress in areas that matter most. Prioritizing behaviors are a great way to keep things moving, plus, you can always discuss your concerns with parents and students during individual meetings where personal attention is more acceptable. 

5. You Will Have Lots of Paperwork to Complete

One of your main responsibilities as a special educator is to create individualized educational plans (IEP) for students with disabilities. Aside from grading papers, creating homework assignments, and developing other interactive tasks, IEPs require extra time to prepare and review since each one is specifically designed to challenge and improve a single student's educational career. A regular K-12 teacher will have the luxury of standardized tests and textbook guidelines, but your expertise will call for unique lesson plans and performance reviews that will then need to be presented to parents and school boards. Your materials are not something that can be duplicated or applied to all students, so accepting that additional paperwork and time is a part of the job will help keep you sane during those long nights at the printer. 

6. Every Student is Unique

Since you will be creating IEPs for your students, it's crucial to accept each one as a unique person with their own set of actions and responses. They will come from all walks of life, having faced different challenges and struggles with the support of a family that is different in their own way. These differences rely on the awareness and compassion of someone who can appreciate the individual paths that lead someone to a better future, and more importantly, that person must have the strength to honor the rarity that each student has to offer to the classroom. Throughout your career as a special educator, you cannot assume that one student with Down Syndrome will behave the same way as another, but instead, it's your duty to take the time to learn their troubles, to set a course of action, and guide them to the finish line. Doing so will undoubtedly make a lasting change in their life, as well as instilling a sense of confidence for many years to come.  

7. Enjoy the Journey

Although a career as a special educator can be difficult, there are many aspects to celebrate throughout the journey. Everyday, you will experience a sense of fulfillment that stems from recognizing the impact of your tutelage upon students in need. Whether it's the satisfaction of helping a student give a presentation or encouraging them to try something new, it's the small achievements along that way that add up to huge successes in the end.

NCU Can Help You Prepare

After learning more about what a career as a special educator entails, you can find comfort in knowing that NCU offers in-depth training from a master's degree in Special Education. This program of study provides you with cutting-edge techniques and methods of understanding, bolstered from a foundation of compliance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA/IDEIA). This set of standards aids in protecting and supporting students with disabilities, and NCU is a proud champion of implementing best practices, while paving the way for further innovation.

Professors at NCU have a wealth of knowledge to offer their prospective students, so contact the admissions office today to learn more about how you can get involved.