A typical day for a special education teacher is hard to define because the job description varies widely, unlike that of a classroom teacher. What all special education teachers do have in common, though, include a case load of students who have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) based on some diagnosed disability, the responsibility of preparing lesson plans, recording data on student’s progress towards individual goals and participating in IEP meetings. This may oversimplify the job of the special educator, so let’s take a moment and look at these things a little more closely.
Preparing Lesson Plans Based on an IEP
A Special educator may have any number of students on her case load, and one of her primary responsibilities is to teach those students the state curriculum with any modifications necessary to meet the student’s specified goals and objectives. Each student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that the parents, special education teacher and any other professionals involved in the student’s testing and education agreed upon based on the student’s needs and testing outcomes.
The difference that these lesson plans have compared to a regular education teacher’s lesson plans is that for a caseload of 10 students, the special educator may need to write 10 individual lesson plans, while the regular educator can write one lesson plan for an entire class of students. This ensures that each student receives appropriate individualized instruction.
The planning is the easy part though, because then the lessons must be taught–and often at the same time and in the same room as the regular education teacher who is teaching her lesson! This highlights the importance of the special educator’s need to be well prepared for every lesson!
Data Collection and Special Education Meetings
In order to determine whether a student is progressing, data must be collected. In a typical classroom this means a teacher must assign tests and papers, grade them, record them in some type of grade keeper, average them, and include a final grade on each student’s report card. For a special education teacher, the job is a bit more complicated. Students with an IEP must have demonstrable proof of progress towards specific goals, often requiring many more “grades” recorded for an individual student.
This means that special education teachers will often need to have a method of collecting data informally at every lesson to gauge the student’s understanding and progress towards goals. This also means that each and every lesson needs to be as specific to the individual student’s goals as possible, again pointing to the importance of careful planning.
The data collected each week must be recorded carefully so that on the next meeting to discuss the student’s IEP, there is ample data as to which goals are being met, which goals need more work and which goals, if any, need to be added to the student’s plan along with any updates to curriculum modifications for the student.
These meetings happen before, during and after school hours, and must always include the student’s parent. Usually the parents listen carefully to the updates given and basically say ok to anything that is suggested. They are encouraged to ask questions, but in general, they do not challenge any suggestions made. Every once in a while there will be a parent who is not satisfied with what he or she hears and will demand more from the school, but this shouldn’t happen if the child’s needs are being adequately met.
Other aspects of the special educator’s job include testing students to see if they qualify for special education services, retesting those in the special education program to see if they still qualify and work with any number of additional school and educational professionals to meet the needs of the students who have an IEP. While this can be a very time consuming and difficult job, it can also be very rewarding for the teacher who gets the chance to champion those students who would be left behind otherwise. The most important thing that guides a special educator’s day is the fact that all students can learn–some just learn differently than others.