Special Education Teacher

Special Education Teacher


Chicago, IL

Female, 32

From ’03-‘06, I was a special education teacher in Philadelphia as part of Teach for America. I taught children with mild to moderate special needs (primarily learning disabilities, attention deficits, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral problems) in grades 2 - 8 in all academic subjects. I saw a lot of things and learned a lot...especially the art of patience.

SubscribeGet emails when new questions are answered. Ask Me Anything!Show Bio +


Ask me anything!

Submit Your Question

41 Questions


Last Answer on April 03, 2018

Best Rated

If you were made the country's Education Czar for a day, what changes would you implement for public schools, and special ed programs in particular?

Asked by Artof20 about 7 years ago

(1) Mandatory preschool for all children. The importance of early intervention to identify and address children's learning and social-emotional problems has been established in research. Despite this, there remains a lack of access to education for young children who may need it the most. (2) Equalized funding for public schools. I would abolish the current property tax-based system and provide additional funding for public schools in low-income communities. Otherwise, there is very little hope of making any significant impact on the achievement gap between children in high-income and low-income communities. (3) Improvements to the process of assessing children with special needs. Most children with special needs are still required to take state and district assessments (high-stakes tests) based on their chronological grade level, despite the fact that they may be 2 or more years behind their peers academically. This testing is a complete waste of time and tax-payer money and provides utterly useless information about the child's skills as it is designed to measure their progress based on standards which are beyond their current program of instruction.

What happens when parents insists that their kid should NOT be in a special needs classroom but the school disagrees? Who usually wins out there?

Asked by kramerica about 7 years ago

When the parents and the school special education team disagree a legal Due Process case ensues. Parents and school officials sit down with a mediator, and then an Administrative Law Judge if mediation doesn't work, and speak their case - complete with witnesses, experts, and lots of research and documentation of similar cases. This costs A LOT of money for everyone involved, but given that their pockets are usually deeper, schools often prevail - regardless of whether they're in the right or not. It's more common for parents to sue schools because they're unhappy with the IEP team's recommendation rather than the schools suing parents. While the adults fight it out, the child's current placement must be maintained, even if it's woefully inadequate, until the proceedings are finished. So while one side always wins....I'd say the child typically loses in these situations.

Have you seen the movie "Waiting for Superman"?

Asked by Gameon4 about 7 years ago

I sobbed at the end of this movie. It was heartbreaking to see the parents and children become so engaged in the hope for a better education and a better life, only to have their fate decided by a lottery drawing. I don't know if more charter schools is the answer - we need more GOOD charters, not just more charter schools - but I hope that Race to the Top and other education initiatives help increase access to quality education for ALL students, not just the children whose parents can afford to pay for it.

What makes someone decide to teach special ed, as opposed to a mainstream classroom? Is this usually by choice?

Asked by redEye about 7 years ago

It is a choice and, in my opinion, anyone who teaches special education likely has a lot of patience, caring, and a belief that with the right help, anyone can enjoy school and find success. For me, the decision was part idealistic and part practical. My mother was a teacher's assistant in a special education classroom while I was in elementary school and I would come to visit her often. Her patience and caring for the students with which she worked was inspiring to me and I was proud to have a chance to work with students in a similar way. I truly believe that school should be a place that all children enjoy and want to come to, so I found teaching special education an opportunity to help students who are struggling academically or behaviorally. The practical part of my decision was the fact that there was a greater need for special education teachers and so it was easier to get a job in the school/community I desired. I don't know if this is a larger trend or if it's still the case now, but when I was seeking a job, there was a high need for special education teachers.

Were you told what each of the students' disabilities was before the school year?

Asked by PoBoy98 about 7 years ago

No. Typically I received IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for my students within the first week of classes. The IEP is a legal document which describes (in varying detail) the student's disability/ies, areas of strength and weakness, their current level of performance in areas of deficit, academic/behavioral/social goals for them to achieve throughout the next year, and their specific placement in a special education and/or regular education classroom. I was legally mandated to uphold the requirements of the IEP and help the students reach their IEP goals, providing documentation of their progress over the course of the school year.

Did you ever get stuck with a kid that was just beyond "special needs?" I mean someone who couldn't function in a classroom of any kind? What did you do? Are you stuck with that kid permanently, or can you get him/her removed?

Asked by kramerica about 7 years ago

I have not personally had this experience as a teacher, but since leaving the classroom I have seen this in my administrative roles in schools. There are definitely children who have special needs which cannot be met adequately in a traditional school setting or special education classroom in their public school. This is where private schools come in - private therapeutic schools provide very small classes (5-10 students) with severe disabilities or behavioral problems. Some of these schools are residential and students live on the premises, while others use bus or taxi transportation. Students in a public school who need such a placement are typically placed in these VERY costly schools after much careful decision making and debate. Taxpayers foot the bill for these placements, so schools often try to meet children's needs within the public schools whenever possible. One sad thing to note is that it can be very difficult for students to transition back to a traditional school after attending a private therapeutic school, so placing a young child there may mean that they'll never attend school with their non-disabled peers.

Was it difficult to divvy up your time given that all of your kids had different needs, depending on their conditions?

Asked by pwneddood about 7 years ago

Yes. This is a definite organizational nightmare. I had as many as 15 kids at a time, may or may not have had another adult aide to help me, and they each had at least 3 IEP goals which I was responsible for monitoring. A side effect of this problem which I've noticed over the years is that many case managers (special education teachers usually) generalize their IEP goals so they can better manage the needs of multiple students in a single class. This is technically against the law as an IEP is intended to provide an INDIVIDUALIZED plan for a child's education to meet his or her unique needs.