8 Things Your Special Education Teacher Wishes You Knew

As teachers, I feel like we all have topics or subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. For me, that topic is special education.  Specifically, the way students with disabilities survive in an inclusive classroom.
I was once told that working as the special education teacher in an inclusive setting is one of the trickiest jobs around.  You are walking into someone else's classroom, and attempting to serve the students that are often the most difficult for them to reach.  I try my best to always respect the classroom teacher, but I am also an advocate for that child.

Over the years, I've always had a list of things that I wish my fellow general education teachers knew.  Today, I'm sharing my list.  Your special education teacher *may* be thinking the same things.

I'm not there to judge you.
Of all people in this building, I understand that not everyone is the same.  Just like kids have learning styles, teachers have teaching styles.  I respect that, and I rarely ever compare one teacher to another.  While I may be offering suggestions or helping to brainstorm strategies, that is in NO way a judgment of your teaching, your ability to handle the student, or you as a person.  Please know, that I am only trying to help make your day easier.

Your students don't learn like you do.
Duh, right?  That's why they have identified disabilities, right?  But what does that mean to you as the general education teacher?  I think the best way to understand what students are going through is to experience it yourself.  The website Misunderstood Minds has multiple ways to experience common struggles that our students are going through.  My favorite is the auditory activity that proves how hard it is for some students to follow directions.  For many of us, school was easy.  We loved it, but we likely loved it because it was easy for us.  Not all kids fit that mold. 

She’s not brain dead.
Whoa!  I seriously didn't mean for that to sound so negative.  Let me tell you what I mean.  By upper elementary, many kids with disabilities are YEARS behind.  As a general education teacher, I want you to have high expectations for all students, including your kids with disabilities.  Learning disabilities tend to effect only a small portion of their learning (example: decoding or fluency), but they don't typically impact every. single. aspect. of their academics.  So, yes, she has a learning disability.  But, she is NOT brain dead.  It's seriously ok to push them.  It is seriously ok to have high expectations.  But please, don't treat her like she's the classroom pet, where her classmates hold her hand and teach her to rely on others.  Work hard to discover her areas of strength and MAXIMIZE them!

Your identified kids aren't lazy.
Often times, your students with learning disabilities are actually some of your hardest working kids.  These are the kids that have to work their tails off to reach each and every milestone.  Sometimes hard work reaps different rewards and rates of growth. And, I'm ok with that.  Try to recognize the work rather than the gaps.

If they could control their behavior, they would.
Now, some kids are truly smart enough to manipulate situations, and they ARE in control.  However, many of the students sitting in our classrooms, cannot control their impulses, emotions, or reactions to peer situations.  I always try to explain this in relation to my energy level.  I don't know about you, but I'm ready to crash by 7:00 on a Friday night.  I WISH I had the energy level of my four year old.  But, I don't.  There isn't anything I can do to change that.

If your little guy with ADHD could control those his impulses in your classroom, trust me, he would.  But he can't, just like I can't will myself to have the energy level of a toddler.  Help him to find ways to work off a little energy AND complete classroom assignments.

Why do we care about grades so much?!
Wouldn't it be perfect if every single kid in your classroom was a straight A student?! Last time I checked, that isn't realistic.  Like, not even a little bit realistic.  So why do we always put so much emphasis on grades?  Why can't we celebrate a hard earned C-?  When I sit in parent-teacher conferences with the parents of students with disabilities, I always encourage them to focus on their IEP progress monitoring or other area of growth rather than the letter sitting next to their reading or writing grade on their report card.

The IEP isn't optional.
Many teachers want to be choosy in regards to accommodations.  An IEP is a legal document, in which the general education teacher(s), special education teacher(s), principal, and parents have the ability to write, change, and adapt the services and supports for the student.  If there is an accommodation that you don't agree with, see a need for, or simply want to adjust, ask the special education teacher for a meeting.  You are legally obligated to provide the services, supports, and accommodations that are outlined.  Make sure that you understand them and that they are fitting for the student.  If those accommodations were written, then at one point in time, a team of people met, discussed, and agreed that those accommodations were necessary.  It's not your job to pick and choose based on what works for you.

An IEP is NOT an excuse.
Have a student with a reading disability, but they're doing horrible with basic computation? Oh, it must be the disability.  Ummm, no?!  And shut up, you've heard it at some point in your career.  Some parents, students, and teachers see an IEP as the ultimate excuse.  Math homework taking too long at night?  Let's pull the IEP card to reduce the amount of homework.  Didn't pass statewide testing?  That's ok!  They have an IEP!  

Well, I disagree.  A student with a disability might do poorly in one area of statewide testing, and homework might take a bit longer.  But each time we use this as the ultimate "Get Out of Jail FREE" card, we devalue that IEP a little more.  It is there as a support, not as a crutch.

I am NOT perfect, and I'm usually the first to admit that.  I also hate confrontation with parents, other teachers, and administrations.  So, if I'm being real with you, students with disabilities in a general education classroom is HARD.  But I also believe that putting them in a self contained, special education classroom is not the ideal placement for them.

Now that I am in the role of a general education teacher, I constantly have an internal struggle between the general ed and special ed parts of my heart.  It is never easy.  Just remember, EVERY teacher wants is to look back on a school year, and know that they did everything possible to ensure the success of all students in their classroom.


  1. What a great post! Thank you for having the courage to write it!

    1. Thank you, Deb! Trust me, it took a LOT of courage, but I'm proud of it in the end. Thanks again for reading!!! :)

  2. I love this post! I plan to share it with the resource room teachers at my school!

    1. Thank you! I'd be curious what they would add or take away from the post! :)

  3. I really enjoy reading this! Thank you for your honest opinion.

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