Sometimes parents of students with disabilities will complain that teachers don’t know how to teach special education. This generalization is difficult to pin down. What specifically makes parents believe this? What is it about their student’s teacher that makes them so critical?
With more student placement in inclusion classes, it also isn’t always clear if they are complaining about a general or special education teacher.
If their child’s teacher didn’t do a good job, why not? What college did that teacher attend, and why didn’t they learn what they needed to effectively teach students with disabilities?
I recently wrote a post critical of Teach for America Corps Members who obtain little preparation to teach students with disabilities, but what about teachers who have college degrees and adequate credentials? Why do parents criticize them?
Was the child in an inclusion class where the teacher could not specialize their education well? Resource and self-contained classes are often shunned because students are segregated, but it is in those classes that some children have the best chance of individualized assistance.
Students with a variety of exceptionalities are now found in general education inclusion classrooms. While an inclusion setting is usually always the goal, unless class sizes are small, or there’s a special education co-teacher, general education teachers won’t always be able to provide the best tailored help.
Teachers might take a course or two about special education, but it is impossible to expect one general education teacher to have special expertise in all exceptional areas. It’s unrealistic and unfair to promise parents the best of both worlds.
Many universities have been caught up in corporate reform and policy changes for years. With the re-authorizations of PL 94-142 to IDEA, universities changed how they prepared teachers too. The focus became more about inclusion.
Here is the list from the Council of Exceptional Students of all the exceptionality categories:
- Emotional Disturbance
- Intellectual Disability
- Hearing Impairment
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech of Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairments Including Blindness
- Developmental Delay
- Infant of Toddler with a Disability
- At-Risk Infant of Toddler
- Gifted and Talented
- Twice Exceptional
Those of us who received university degrees in special education in the ’70s and ’80s, before changes to PL-94-142, remember more specialization. If you wanted to teach special education, you chose one or several of the categories above to study intensely. It was mandatory to do this if you wanted to teach in that particular area.
- Those who wished to teach students with emotional or behavioral difficulties (EH) were required to study psychology, child development, behavior, assessment, teaching methods and other applicable coursework.
- Teachers interested in students with learning disabilities (LD) had to get coursework involving central processing dysfunctions, visual and auditory disabilities, language and other neurological areas which could have fallen under the “brain science” so many talk about today. EH and LD overlap, so getting licensure coverage for both these areas was encouraged in many universities.
- Dyslexia, which is a controversial subject among parents, fell under the category of learning disabilities. It’s not a new topic. Students with dyslexia or reading disabilities usually attended a resource class for reading assistance one or two periods a day. It was there that they received special reading instruction that often included instruction on decoding. This still occurs.
- Likewise, if you taught students with deafness or vision difficulties, there were special classes and licensure for teaching in these areas.
- Gifted and Talented was another area that required special coursework and many credit hours for certification.
School districts strictly enforced rules to place special education teachers with credentials in the areas they were to teach.
Categories might overlap. But specializing and obtaining in-depth knowledge about how to teach children in any category is important.
It seems like fewer college courses with specialization exist today in the area of learning disabilities especially, probably due to the general education push for inclusion. Yet that’s the exact area where teachers used to learn about dyslexia and other disabilities that are still prevalent.
But not specializing as a teacher in special education means that a huge part of understanding how students with disabilities learn is lost. It only adds to the “one-size-fits-all” mentality and students get shortchanged.
Teacher preparation should be both broad and specific to ensure that students have access to the assistance they need according to the disability they bring to school.