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.

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41 Questions


Last Answer on April 03, 2018

Best Rated

What was the most extreme special needs classroom catastrophe you ever saw? An act of violence or some self-inflicted injury...?

Asked by Jims Noggin about 7 years ago

Good question! In my time teaching in Philadelphia I saw some pretty crazy stuff. Physical fights and generally bizarre behavior were not uncommon. The craziest thing I personally witnessed was a child threatening me and some of his peers with a pair of scissors. He was affected by schizophrenia and heard voices. When he was not in his medication his symptoms were quite bad and he often accused peers and I of saying things we never said. He rarely responded violently, but he was also somewhat alienated by his peers, and on this occasion he seemed to hit a breaking point. It was very intense and scary, but luckily no one was seriously injured. And I learned my lesson - only safety scissors in my special education class after that! I kept the big scissors locked in my desk drawer.

How much do kids make fun of each other's disabilities, and how do you handle it?

Asked by PatriceKQ about 7 years ago

Yes, of course, all the time. Kids can be extremely cruel to one another. It is essential to create a safe environment in your classroom and set the expectation that "We just don't speak to each other that way in here." As much press as bullying and school violence have been getting lately, this is clearly becoming more and more an issue. Teachers must be aware of how children are treating each other and show zero tolerance for bullying and threats of violence. No child should die or be driven to suicide because I failed to make them feel safe in my classroom.

can a special ed teacher teach general classes as well

Asked by jasmine over 5 years ago

Typically you are certified as either a general education teacher or as a special education teacher but not both, so most of the time you are not allowed to teach classes outside of the area you are certified in. In recent years, special ed teachers have been providing more "push-in" support to students with special needs, however, which means that they are more likely to be working alongside general education teachers in a general education class to support students there instead of having their own special education classroom and pulling students out to work with them in a separate room. 

I heard of special ed teachers getting physically wounded by some of their students either by scratches or getting punched. Any advice for a new special ed teacher to avoid incidences like these
and/or what to do in that situation?

Asked by Candy12345 almost 6 years ago

It is best to avoid physical contact with students whenever you can - unless you are specially trained to restrain students when they are having a tantrum which threatens their own safety or the safety of others. However, sometimes unintentional injuries do happen. You can help avoid some of these incidents by creating a safe environment in your classroom and setting the expectation that no one is allowed to hurt themself or anyone else in your classroom, hold regular meetings or discussions with your students to discuss classroom functioning, social-emotional awareness and interpersonal/friendship skills, and consistently enforcing the expectation that no one is allowed to harm others or themself. Enlist the support of your school social worker, school psychologist, counselor, school police officer, or administrators if you feel that you're having difficulty establishing a positive classroom environment. 

As a special ed teacher, how would you handle a child who was coming at you in an aggressive way and with a type of weapon from home (i.e. knife) or school (i.e. sharp pencil)?

Asked by Candy12345 almost 6 years ago

Unfortunately, I can speak from some personal experience on this question. I intervened when a student in my classroom grabbed a pair of scissors and went after another classmate with them.  Fortunately, I was able to get the scissors away from him and keep the student from hurting anyone else, including me. I did learn from this experience the importance of not leaving a pair of scissors out on top of my desk, however. Often, when a student brings a weapon to school (or finds one there) to use in an aggressive manner, you have had some warning signs ahead of time to know that this is a student who is volatile, in need of social-emotional support, or has had a pattern of aggressive behaviors in his/her past. In these cases, teachers should ask for support from their school social worker, school psychologist, counselor, or an administrator to be sure that everything that can be done is being done to support the student with mental health support, violence threat assessments, suicidal threat assessments, and disciplinary actions as appropriate to prevent an incident from happening in your classroom. In the case of students who unexpectedly wield a weapon in your classroom, seemingly without warning, just do your best to keep your other students safe while attempting to calm and/or disarm the student and getting help from another teacher, administrator, or school police officer.  

Difficulty completing written tasks, screams answers out of turn, does not do homework, teases everyone in class, they do not want to play with him. What do I do in all this cases? Pretty good idea though, but would like your input please.

Asked by gabe almost 5 years ago

Some ideas you can try are positive incentives and praise when the student shows appropriate behaviors. Sometimes students exhibit negative behaviors to gain attention from others and when you ignore negative behaviors while praising and incentivizing positive behaviors, you may see them engaging in more positive behaviors to get attention. Specific skill instruction in social skills can also be helpful. Your school social worker, school psychologist, or counselor might be helpful in giving you ideas for how to do this. This might help the child better understand how to interact appropriately with classmates and adults in a classroom, recess, lunch, or other school setting. Coordinating with parents to understand the child's day-to-day life at home, any family stresses that impact the child's functioning at school, and any medical or developmental issues that might impact the child's functioning at school can also be very important. If the child is a danger to himself or others, or their behavior impacts their ability to learn or the ability of others to learn, the child might be in need of special education to support the development of self-regulation of emotions or behavior in order to access their education. Speak with a special education teacher, a social worker, school psychologist, or your administrator to discuss what to do next if this is the case.

How would you define the autism spectrum disorder?
What are the terms of these students?
What are the needs of a child with autism spectrum disorder?
What are the medical implications?
What are the concerns in the classroom?

Asked by stacey over 4 years ago

You can find some good general information about Autism here: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml