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Special Educators ARE Teachers Too

December 10, 2011

Full Disclosure: I have taught both special education and general education classes as the About Me tab on my front page shows.  In my experience I have learned that some special education teachers are viewed with a jaundiced eye by their general education peers.  But, it has also been my experience that this can be remedied.

This year I am back to teaching special education.  I run the Learning Center for grades 4, 5, and 6 and I have quite a few challenging students.  I am also at a new school within a new school district so there have been many challenges for me to overcome this year as a teacher and as a collaborator (which is a lot of what my position entails).

General education teachers gravitate towards one another because they share so many common students and common experiences.  As a special education teacher who might share some of these same students, albeit in a different environment it is UP TO US to reach out and talk to our general education teachers.  It helps that I like to talk, and I like to collaborate, and I like to know what my kids are up to while in gen ed, if you don’t like to do these things as a special education teacher, if you just like to keep to yourself and stay in your room, you might get the same types of comments that this woman below wrote about.

I have to admit that I have never received ANY of the comments that she has listed in this piece, and I have always been treated with respect as I treat others the same way.  Anyhow, I just thought this woman’s take on feeling disrespected was interesting, it is especially interesting if you are a special education teacher.  This post is in no way meant to disregard how this woman feels, but it might be instrumental in thinking about ways to avoid getting the comments that precipitated her post.  And, many of the points she discusses like 10 students feeling like 50 are true because we have students who are many times much more difficult to work with.


“Oh, you’re not a real teacher.”

“Thanks for turning in your report card pick up attendance sheet, but yours doesn’t count.”

“Since you’re not a real teacher you don’t get a new computer for your classroom.”

“You’re so lucky that you only have10 students in your classroom at a time.”

Those are just some of the typical comments I get throughout the year at my school. I feel like I really have many obstacles to overcome just in how I am perceived by my coworkers as a special education teacher. I have learned not to take too much offense when one of my colleagues or administrators makes a comment similar to those above, but it still stings a bit.

I understand that what they are trying to say is that since I do not have a homeroom I do not get the same things or have the same requirements as does a teacher with a homeroom. One of my colleagues was recently asked about her classroom, “Why do you need to use all of this space? You’re just a resource teacher.” She later called me to vent about her experience, and I told her that I wish this were the first time I was hearing things like this, but it wasn’t.

Yes, it is true I do not have a homeroom, and I do not teach all of the subjects to each one of my students, but that does not make me any less of a teacher than my colleagues. I sometimes wonder if people realize the extent of what I do with my students every day.

I often have the least amount of supplies to work with in my classroom. If I need things like calculators, books, or geoboards, I am borrowing them from my colleagues. I need to collaborate with more than six teachers on a weekly basis, so just trying to find the time to do that while making sure I use the right approach for each person’s personality can be a struggle.

Those “few” children I have in my classroom? It sometimes feels like there are 50 kids instead of 10. This is especially true when Miguel is upset because someone cut in front of him in line, Jack got a detention in library and is taking his frustration out on me, Juan is crying because he lost his favorite blue pencil, and Alan is covering his ears while humming loudly because they announced we’re having a fire drill today. I’m handling all of that all while still trying to teach the lesson to the other students in the classroom who are ready to learn.

I am constantly adapting and accommodating the curriculum to best meet the needs of my students while allowing them to be successful. It takes time to make worksheets, PowerPoints, and modify tests. I still have to grade assignments and give grades to my students. Then there are all of my special education duties, writing IEPs for all of the students on my caseload. Keeping track of their goals, and staying current on the progress monitoring of their goals. Every quarter I’m writing their IEP report cards in addition to their regular report cards.

I’m not asking to receive any extra or special praise for being a special education teacher; I am just doing my job. But please, please don’t tell me I’m not a teacher. I AM a teacher!


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