4 Qualities Special Education Teachers Can Use to Make Learning More Accessible
By: Robbie Janet
A 2021 report from the National Center of Education Statistics estimates that about 14% of American public school students aged 3-21 received special education services. That’s 7.3 million students total. With special education services, the students who find their academic performance hindered by learning disabilities and other conditions can experience learning with less difficulty.
Teachers play a big role in ensuring that no student falls behind. However, it’s not always easy. Some challenges of working in special education include having to translate learning materials to something easier to understand, modifying lessons according to the unique cases of each student, encouraging inclusivity in the classroom, and dealing with the occasional lack of support from both schools and parents.
To navigate these difficulties, there are certain skills teachers need to develop. The skills every special education teacher needs and should be able to demonstrate are outlined in the High Leverage Practices (HLPs) developed by CEC and CEEDAR Center. This begs the question—what else can we bring to our jobs to maximize learning?
As a special education teacher, you already have qualities like empathy, patience, and communication in your toolbelt. Below, we’ll take a closer look at how teachers can use these skills to make learning more accessible.
One learning disability that affects many students is dyslexia. As previously discussed in our blog post entitled How Reading Can Get in the Way of Math Achievement, using unclear or overly wordy learning materials for subjects unrelated to language only slows down students with reading problems. For example, students with reading difficulties might not be able to access the actual math content of a mathematical problem if it is presented in paragraph form. Poor written expression then gets in the way of their math learning, even if their learning disabilities don’t directly affect their math skills.
With good written communication skills, teachers can create learning materials that are readable for students of any age or reading level. This means using clear language, with simple words and concise sentences. It can also help to add visual aids, such as pictures or drawings, to help illustrate words that might be unfamiliar.
Good verbal communication skills allow teachers to explain complex topics in ways that are easy for students to understand. But verbal communication also has significance outside the classroom. According to a Maryville University overview of human development and family careers, professionals that work with children in educational settings need good verbal communication skills to facilitate successful interactions with children, fellow staff, and parents. Good communication skills can make parents more receptive when discussing touchy subjects, such as student misbehavior, weaknesses, and other problems.
In comparison to other students, students with disabilities may find certain tasks more difficult, which can discourage them from trying their best. To motivate them, teachers need to show understanding, especially in relation to the challenges these students go through. As explained by an article on empathy by non-profit organizations Understood.Org, when mentors validate their students' struggles, these students will be more likely to stay motivated and even speak up when they need help. Showing support for students’ limitations can empower them to navigate new difficulties instead of giving up.
Teachers may find it challenging to help students navigate their specific learning difficulties if they have no firsthand experience with these disabilities. Working in special education, they might also need to face students with behavioral issues, and students who aren’t receptive to any form of teaching. With the right amount of patience, teachers will be able to sit with unresponsive students, determine how to connect with them, and lead them toward academic progress.