Have you ever wondered what does a special education teacher do? I have discovered that some assume they know but most people really don’t have a clue about what exactly we do.
What Does a Special Education Teacher Do
I’ll admit it, back when I first accepted and posted that I was a new special education teacher, I assumed that I knew what all my new job would entail. Having been a teacher before (on the general education side), I had some preconceived notions about this job. Since starting my job, I’ve realized that I may have been too quick to judge the special ed teachers I knew. Plus, I have had several people in my life ask me what does a special education teacher do. As in, they have no clue what my job entails. So, I figured if people were asking me in real life, then perhaps the people online might be wondering too. Well, wonder no more. Let me tell you.
- Co-teach: I have found that this is one of the biggest complaints gen ed teachers have about special ed teachers. Some want us to come in and takeover the class by teaching lessons while others want us to remain quiet while in their classroom. Basically though, we are in someone else’s classroom for a period, primarily to serve and meet the needs (accommodations) of the kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). Some people disagree on the amount of teaching (or help) I am supposed to provide to the other students. I was taught to believe that I am there to teach ALL students (there isn’t a MY kids versus YOUR kids thing with me). However, old school teachers tend to believe the opposite. This is also leads me to my next big thing…
- Co-plan: It would be awesome if I had my planning period at the same time as all of my teachers. However, I don’t. So, that makes this part difficult, which in turn makes the above bullet point hard to carry out. Essentially, this is the time in which we discuss what the classroom teacher has planned and any possible modifications we need to make for my class as well as what I need to do. Although, this time can also be used to discuss students’ progress or difficulties we need to address.
- Look over IEPs and make sure they are being followed: This is more of an ongoing thing, to be honest. I have some kids on my caseload, as I’m the case manager. So, it’s up to me to get up-to-date on their status *see below. However, it’s also my responsibility to make sure their accommodations are being followed in the classroom that I’m in. For instance, I might have to read aloud a test to a student because it’s written in their program that they will receive assessments on a read aloud basis. So, it’s up to me (primarily) to know these students’ programs and carry them out with modifications as needed.
- Make phone calls: This has to be one of my least favorite tasks as of late. Sometimes, it’s a nice phone call where I just check-in with the parent to see if they have any concerns. Other times, it’s me following up on a complaint someone has made and then the parent is anything from disgruntled to downright rude.
- Respond to emails: This is right up there with phone calls, but I prefer them to the phone because I can do it quickly and make a better (well-thought out) response to someone. Plus, it’s way easier to document as I just hit print after I’ve responded.
- Check-in on students: This includes checking in with the teachers of the students on my caseload to see how they are doing, checking in with parents, and meeting with kids to see how they are doing.
- Document everything: This one is becoming more and more of a time suck for me. I was told recently “Document it or it didn’t happen.” This is somewhat of a cover your butt thing, in case someone complains or checks up on us. However, every time I make a phone call, I write it down (the date and time and what the conversation was about). Every time I email a parent (or sometimes a teacher), I save a copy in my email and I print out the string of emails. I document whenever I meet with parents, teachers, or students. Then, I place these papers into the file I have for my students. So, if someone comes in and asks what I’ve done to help a student or to communicate with parents, I can pull out that child’s file and provide documentation of everything.
- Have patience: Lots of people assume that one needs a great deal of patience to be a special ed teacher. They would be right, but I would say they are incorrect on the reasons. Most would assume it’s patience for the children. However, the students I work with don’t try my patience much (if at all). It tends to be the adults involved that stress me out. So, I’ll agree that I get stressed and have to keep trying different things, but it’s usually to satisfy an adult involved, not the student.
- Write IEPs: Notice that this is last on my list. Most people assume that all I do is write IEPs for students. However, it’s only a small part of my job. Yes, I re-write them and check on students’ eligibility for receiving services, but as you can see, it’s not all that I do.
Whew. That was a lot to type. As you can now (hopefully) see, what does a special education teacher do is not an easy question to answer.