Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The New Special Education Teacher

Teaching is a difficult challenge.  It is both an art and a science.  The art of teaching is something most classroom teachers work on for years.  Each year brings the opportunity to begin anew and perfect those "affective" parts of the profession that cannot be learned through books or  lectures.  Being a master teacher is much more than just knowing one's content.  The core of being a master teacher is found in the ability to support students in mastering the content, retaining critical concepts, and enjoying the classroom experience, predominately accomplished through the development of positive relationships.  This challenge is difficult for veteran teachers; imagine what a first year teacher goes through in having to put the theory into practice.

Not only are new to the profession teachers faced with the challenges of putting all that theory into practice but also they have individual needs that must be met in order to be effective.  Providing support that addresses teacher's unique needs is important for increasing their effectiveness, helping them make a smooth transition into teaching, and reducing their stress and turnover (Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2011).  The real challenge is for parents to know their child's teacher is new, inexperienced, and how the district will plan to support the teacher in meeting the IEP child's needs over the next several months.  This is increasingly important as the turn over in special education teachers is high.  The frustration parents feel when they know they have to "train" a new teacher about their child and his/her needs is real and must be addressed if progress is to be consistent.  This consistency is the responsibility of the district, but special education teachers are often expected to know things they truly do not.  So what can the parents do to help hasten the learning curve of the new teacher?

  1. Introduce yourself in person within the first few days of the school year, preferably before if possible.  A "back to school" evening is a great time or even during the first few days of in service before the students return.  It is nice to have a face with a name and be able to associate a child with a parent.  Try to schedule this so as to not interrupt any meetings the teacher may be in during the time you wish to meet.
  2. Ask the teacher if he/she has read your child's IEP or cumulative file.  This is critical.  This teacher is the roster teacher for your child and needs to know his/her IEP before the IEP comes due.  I can think of nothing more that could set a special education teacher up for failure than to start the school year and not know the basics of a student's IEP needs. If this teacher has not read the IEP or file, discuss your child's IEP with this teacher.
  3. Find out, just by asking, if the teacher is fully certified or on a conditional license.  This is important as it will tell you how much education he/she has had up to this point.  It is not uncommon for special education teachers to be on a conditional license. 
  4. Be clear with the teacher if you prefer a specific venue for communication (i.e. phone, e-mail).  Parents are encouraged to communicate frequently and consistently with the new teacher, especially at the beginning.  This shows your advocacy for your child and lets the teacher know you are not expecting a one-way street of communication.  Remember, this new teacher has several students and needs each parent to be proactive with communication.  If there are specific things you expect from a phone call, be sure to let the teacher know. 
  5. As a parent, you must remember that your child's teacher no doubt wants to be effective in his/her services to your child.  While it is not your job to provide extended educational opportunities or hold that person's hand as he/she becomes acclimated to the school, policies, procedures, and expectations, it will benefit your child to take the lead in communication.
You are your child's number one advocate.  Don't hold back. 

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