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Meaningful Teaching

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Meaningful Teaching in Special Education

People have to choose which direction they want to take their life in, whether it is to become a professional athlete or a professional educator. Regardless of what choice is made, a commitment has to be made to strive to do the best of their ability. Many have made the choice to become a special education educator. Special education educators are people who work with children and youth who have a variety of disabilities. The various types of disabilities include specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbances, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Teachers—Special Education, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos070.htm (visited March 23, 2009)).

There are two different types of special education classrooms: inclusive- which special education students are mainstreamed with the general education population and self-contained- which contains only special education students. There seems to be a common factor when it comes to becoming a special education educator, love. You not only need to love your job, but love who you work with, the children. When I interviewed Marcia Rector, self-contained special education educator for Sacaton Elementary School, she described the love she has for her students. She stated, “when I see the smile on their face when they finally achieve their goal, which can be as simple as tying their shoes, that is the reason why I am anxious to come to work every single day.” She has taught special education for over twenty years. She has had her share of challenges but no matter how hard it may seem, seeing the look on the students face when they finally achieve their goal is pure satisfaction, making all the hard work worth it. One of her most challenging teaching experiences involved a student that would literally drop to the ground every single day when it was time to go home. She had to physically pick her up and put her on the bus to go home. Sometimes she would hide under tables and miss the bus. The home liaison would then have to help Ms. Rector pick up the student and put her in the school vehicle to drive her home. She could not understand why she would do this every single day at the same time. She finally started gaining her students trust and gathering information from pictures and writings that the student will do. She found out through her perseverance of trying to reach out to the student, that the student was getting beaten and sexually assaulted by her father when she would get home. That student had no way of communicating what was happening except through acting out. If it were not for Ms. Rector’s determination to get this student to stop shutting down, she would not have gotten the help that she desperately needed. That student is now academically doing all her work, she is joining various school activities, and she is excited to come to school everyday. She no longer shuts down and gets on the bus without a fight. Ms. Rector’s philosophy for teaching is, “any child can succeed if they are given the opportunity and is shown that someone genuinely cares about their success.” Another educator that I interviewed, Angela Johnston who teaches grades 3rd ' 5th self-contained, knew she wanted to become an educator because “there is no experience more rewarding than seeing someone “gets it”.” She accepts and treats a special needs student like any other student she may come in contact with. She doesn’t label them just because they may have a learning disability. She welcomes them with open arms and sees them for who they are as a person. Not only does Ms. Johnston build a relationship with them but empowers them to do their best. She believes in progressivism. She believes that knowledge comes from experience. Her teaching style promotes critical thinking skills and wants the school to become a part of the student’s personal growth, in which will promote to societal growth. Whenever she writes a lesson, she always asks herself, “What are the students going to use this for?” She proclaims, “there are no skills that I teach in my room that are not functional skills.” In order to get her students motivated to work, she allows the students to visually see their progress in chart form. There they can visually see their gains. She also shows them where they were compared to last year and “they always get a little pep in their step, whether they would like to admit it or not.” One of her most rewarding experiences is when a student with a learning disability meets the grade-level benchmark on a state test and seeing the shock on their face.

Now there are the inclusive classroom educators, which many believe to have it harder than special education educators. They are under more scrutiny because they need to have all of their students, regardless if they are special needs, meet the state standards. Their teaching skills are assessed by student achievement. According to Rhonda Lemire, a twenty-three year veteran educator from Texas, a special education educator has been trained to accommodate a child with special needs, whereas a regular education teacher rarely takes any courses on how to educate a child with special needs. Therefore, causing them to struggle because of the lack of background knowledge. Also, regular education teachers do not have the help of an aid as do special education educators. Ms. Lemire has taught many

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