Teachers face a complex learning environment, from learning disabilities to behavioral issues
Many educational systems throughout the country are creating all-inclusive learning environments that integrate students at various academic and social levels into one general classroom for a robust educational experience. Today’s teachers must prepare for the challenges of a diverse classroom to create an effective learning environment for all students at all levels of education. Teachers must know how to address the special educational needs and provide necessary support for students who have specific learning disabilities, mild to moderate mental retardation or mild to moderate behavioral disorders.
Many school systems seek licensed teaching professionals to meet the demand for special education instruction. However, the nationwide attrition rate for newly hired special education teachers averages 10 percent during the first six years of teaching, and some regions of the country experience an attrition rate as high as 30 percent. Many experts cite the lack of training and negative initial teaching experience as contributing factors to high attrition rates in school systems. Proper education, licensures and training can enhance teachers’ qualifications and aptitudes so they are fully equipped to facilitate a dynamic learning environment for all their students.
Teaching Students Who Have Learning Disabilities
Students struggling in the classroom with learning disabilities often display difficulty organizing and remembering information and also expressing ideas and well-developed concepts. According to LearningRx (an organization focused on improving the learning and performance of children and adults), this mental block directly affects students’ basic educational aptitudes, including reading, writing, comprehension and reasoning. Teachers can learn educational methods that help facilitate a positive and effective learning experience for students facing the difficulties associated with learning disabilities through specific strategies and pedagogical methods.
The first critical factor in effectively teaching students who have learning disabilities is to have a broad understanding of the various types of disabilities in today’s classroom. Some of the most common learning disabilities include:
• Dyslexia: A learning disability that impairs people’s ability to read. It often reveals itself as a difficulty with phonological awareness or decoding, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory or rapid naming. It is estimated that dyslexia affects between 5 and 10 percent of the population.
• Dyscalculia: A learning disability that involves difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics. Students who have dyscalculia often struggle with understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers or learning math facts. It is estimated that between 3 and 6 percent of the population suffer from some form of dyscalculia.
• Dysgraphia: A deficiency in writing skills in terms of handwriting and coherence. Unlike other learning disabilities, dysgraphia is not due to an intellectual impairment. It is a writing disorder that manifests in impaired writing, orthographic coding and finger sequencing.
• Sensory processing disorder: A learning disability that affects students’ level of auditory or visual processing abilities.
These and other learning disabilities cause students to struggle with basic academic competencies and aptitudes, including communication skills, reading skills, math skills and social skills. Studying presents another challenge to students who have learning disabilities because many have time management difficulties and lack organizational skills. Teachers may also notice that these students struggle with spelling, grammar and penmanship as well as theinability to recognize math symbols.
Learning disabilities affect more than students’ academic performance. Students who are aware of their deficiencies can become isolated and insecure and can have low self-esteem, which contributes to a negative learning experience. Students often exhibit impaired social skills as a result of their disabilities. As such, teachers should be aware of these students’ social behaviors in addition to their academic achievement.
Special Education Teaching Models Give Instructors Options in the Classroom
Teaching models, strategies and practices vary between school systems and even individual schools within a school
district. However, the goal of all educators is to ensure all students can flourish in a supportive and effective learning environment. The following popular teaching models address the needs of students who have learning disabilities:
• Inclusion: This learning model has proven to be best practice for students who have mild to moderate learning deficiencies. Students spend all or the majority of their school day in a general education classroom. In some cases, students who have special needs leave the classroom for smaller, more intensive instructional sessions in a resource room. These sessions provide students with privacy and personalized instruction.
• Mainstreaming: Similar to inclusion, students who have learning deficiencies spend part of the school day in a general education classroom based on their skills and the curriculum. These students then spend the remainder of the day in a classroom designed for students who have special needs.
• Segregation: Students who have special needs spend no time in a general education classroom and, in some cases, attend a school designed for students who have learning disabilities. Many schools provide opportunities for social integration, including lunch and recess.
• Exclusion: Students may not attend any school due to a variety of factors and are thus excluded from school. Most exclusion occurs in poor, rural areas of developing countries and leads to nearly 23 million disabled children worldwide being excluded from school. In certain cases, students will receive personalized instruction and tutoring.
A comprehensive understanding of these various pedagogy models for special education can help teachers choose an instructional method that is most effective and advantageous for students who have learning disabilities.
All teachers face numerous challenges at their job; however, special education teachers have an added element of pressure. Identifying these new challenges and learning to overcome them is imperative to your success in the classroom.
• Support: Whether from parents or the school districts, special education teachers often feel a lack of support, which creates a sense of isolation. Seeking a solid network of supporters is essential to enhancing your experience as a special education teacher.
• Paperwork and scheduling: Often the least favorable parts of special education teachers’ jobs are the most unavoidable. Special education teachers often have an increased load of paperwork that can bury them in the administrative part of the job. Additionally, floating special education teachers must contend with numerous schedules because they work with several teachers and students. Staying organized and utilizing effective time management skills is necessary for a successful school year.
• Assessment: Schools want to measure the academic growth of all students; however, this often presents a challenge for special education students who develop and grow at different rates compared to their general education peers. Create your own method of assessment and ensure your students receive recognition for their individual achievements.
Creating an effective learning environment means creating an enjoyable one. Enjoy your job as an educator, and your students will greatly benefit from it.
Growing Demand for Special Education Teachers
Because the attrition rate for special education teachers is above the profession’s average, a strong demand remains for educators who are licensed, trained and experienced in special education instruction. Adding more stress on the demand for special education professionals is the accelerated growth rate of the population of students who have special needs compared to their general education peers.
Generating a strong pool of special education teachers is imperative to the development and success of today’s students who struggle with a learning disability.
The rewards of teaching in this field are numerous. Thorough training and education can position you for a meaningful career in special education. Enrolling in Notre Dame College’s Online Masters Degree in Education with a Mild to Moderate Intervention Specialist License can prepare you to teach students who have mild to moderate special needs so you can excel in and enjoy your profession as a special education instructor.