Career Story: Special Education Instructor In A Large Public School

Special Education Instructor In A Large Public School

Job Title: Special Education Teacher

Type of Company: I work for a very large public school system in Northern Virginia.

Education: BA, Early Childhood Education and Special Education

Previous Experience: I began as an instructional assistant in a mental retardation program in the local public schools, then moved to 2nd grade for four years. I took eight years off to raise my children, then went back to a different school where I taught in 3rd grade for eight years. Recently, I've been teaching special ed. at the 4th grade level.

Job Tasks: I begin my day by making sure I have all the materials and supplies I need to teach my lessons: xerox worksheets, gather materials, download video clips and pictures, check out texts from the library, etc. Students come in and start to copy down homework, and then we do a daily language review and some language arts activities to get them ready for instruction. They leave about twenty minutes later for either music or phys. ed. While they are gone, I usually work with my colleagues to plan for the next day or week. Every Tuesday my teaching team meets with our administrators to discuss common assessments, upcoming in-services and the best new approaches to meeting the needs of slower students. When kids return, I'm responsible for teaching them reading, writing and spelling. They also need help with social studies and math and I try to help with these when there is time.

Everything in school revolves around the ability to read and that's my main focus. Most of my students read below grade level and their comprehension is also low. I have a trio of reading groups which focus on disparate things. Two are programs that are very structured; the other's a bit more flexible. We also work on writing: complete sentences (using descriptive vocabulary), punctuation, capitalization and so on. Getting 4th graders to organize their thoughts around a central topic is no cakewalk. They tend to write very basic sentences that lack either detail or color. I also run spelling groups that address individual needs.

After language arts, I move to the general education classroom to support my nine students while they work on social studies. I do the same thing during math. My job includes adapting the curriculum to my students limitations. I often create tests, for example, that are different from the ones that more normal students take. I also write IEPs -- individualized education plans -- for all my students and meet with their parents when needed. Some of my time, before or after school, I devote to committees I'm on. It's a busy busy day; in fact, I always tell my (non-teaching) friends that it's like planning an eight hour birthday party for thirty kids five days in a row. You have to be on your toes and ready for anything.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of job is having a student walk into my classroom and say "I need some help with ___. Can you help me?" They know they're in a place where the teacher will do whatever it takes to help them learn.

The worst part is not having enough time each day to do all the things I want. I wish I could work with each of my students, individually, for several hours a day. State regulation and mandated testing has deprived me of the option of letting students write and act in plays, complete projects, and explore topics of personal interest: things that I consider very valuable tools.

Job Tips:
1.) Don't be afraid to use a loud, firm voice, but never yell. Kids hate when teachers "yell," so you will be much more successful as a teacher if you just stop and wait for them to quiet down, and then begin teaching again.

2.) During your first year of teaching don't plan to have much free time. Teaching will take all your energy and most of your time. It's incredibly rewarding but it can also be exhausting.

3.) Have a sense of humor. Kids say the funniest things, so just stop and laugh. You'll feel much better and your students will see you as a happy person.

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