Special Education

5 Ways Teacher Training Fails Special Education Teachers

5 Ways Teacher Training Fails Special Education Teachers
It is easy to burnout; many teachers don't make it past five years. Image from Unsplash
Tim Villegas profile
Tim Villegas December 13, 2019

Get ready to start advocating.

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The routine of checking these items to confirm their existence on my person hasn’t wavered in years.

When I was in college, I was notorious for losing things. I even lost my car once.

One night I went over to the main campus that was across the street from my apartment complex for a study session. The study group went later than I thought, and I was thrown off my routine. I got home and collapsed into bed.

The next day, I walked out to the carport, and it was gone. My car had vanished. Most assuredly, it was stolen.

I called the police and filed a stolen vehicle report. I called my parents, fretted to my neighbors, and wondered how I was going to get to my three part-time jobs without transportation.

The following day, I walked to campus, ya know, ’cause I couldn’t drive. And a girl in one of my Psychology classes yelled over to me across the commons area, “Hey Tim! Don’t you drive that SUV with all the stickers on the back?” I nodded in the affirmative. “Yeah, it’s parked over in the East Parking Lot,” she said.

Suddenly, it all came flooding back into my brain. I had driven over to campus for the study group because it was raining (a rare occurrence in Southern California). When the study session was over, it wasn’t raining anymore, so I did what I always did. I walked home. Naturally, when I went out to the carport the next day, my car was gone. SMH.

Time management is your best friend.

Fortunately, my executive functioning skills have improved. But not without considerable effort. I’ve forced myself to come up with systems to help me remember important tasks and workflows. If I knew I wanted to become a special education teacher instead of a counselor, I would have started my organizational improvement plan sooner.

Back to phone, wallet, keys. This simple but effective routine might not have kept me from losing my car, but it would have been nice to know during my teacher training.

One thing that teacher training doesn’t prepare you for is the amount of paperwork and documentation that is required. I didn’t get serious about my productivity until well into my fifth year of teaching. So if you are thinking about becoming a teacher, or are in a teaching program, now is the time to learn time management.

Here are a few more things that teacher training doesn’t do a great job of preparing special education teachers.



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Get Ready. Inclusion is not the norm.

It doesn’t matter what part of the country you get trained to be a special education teacher. Even in the most “inclusively minded” states, chances are you will get a job in a school district that still separates students with disabilities from their typical peers. When I got my first job, I was shocked how out of touch the teacher training program was from what jobs were available for my specialty.

If inclusion is important to you, get ready to start advocating.

Scheduling is one of the toughest parts of the job.

If you are a natural problem solver, then you are ahead of the game. As a special education teacher, you will likely be responsible for students in multiple grade levels. If you are a self-contained teacher, that means coordinating the schedules of your students as they push out to segments with their typical peers or related service providers coming into your classroom.

If you are a co-teacher, you will likely serve different classes during the day and will have to travel around the school. Scheduling is one aspect of teaching I wish my training program would have covered in depth.

Watch out; the stress will get you.

Chances are you will be involved in some stressful situations. Meetings with attorneys and advocates for students’ families, observations by your administrators, and navigating challenging behavior in the classroom are only some examples of stressful circumstances. While the level of intensity is different in each instance, you’ll need a way to decompress.

It is easy to burnout; many teachers don’t make it past five years. Training programs would be smart to include strategies for teachers to reduce the stress in their work and life. If special education teachers knew how stressful the job could be, it might help them to prepare mentally.

Compliance (the “legal” kind) is essential.

If you haven’t heard of the word compliance in the context of special education, then you’ll become very familiar when you are a teacher. Basically, the term refers to all the rules and regulations that schools have to adhere to when implementing IEPs. If schools are not following the rules, then they can get sued by the families that they serve. Many school districts have positions that specifically handle compliance issues. We typically all get a special education law class, but compliance is more than knowing the history of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Particulars like how many days to send home a draft IEP document before a meeting or what to do when the family brings a recorder would be useful information from a teacher training program.

If you ask my wife, she would tell you that I am still a work in progress when it comes to organization—good thing she loves me no matter what. No one is perfect, and that’s a good thing. Being reflective about your teaching practice, even as a student, will make you a better educator and person.

So feel free to make mistakes and work on your time management skills. Just don’t lose your car.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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