Sangeetha Rao, Special Education Teacher, Bethune-Bowman Middle/High School

Born in Hyderabad, India, Sangeetha Rao is Special Education Teacher for the Learning Disabled children. Starting her career as a fashion designer, she switched to the teaching field in 2007. Sangeetha has a diploma in Special Education and very passionate about her job. She has taught children in India, but her stint in the USA has helped her enhance her professional development skills in the stream of Multiple Disabilities. She strongly believes in spreading awareness about being helpful and bring happiness on the faces of the children giving them the support and care they need.

Calling out a child with a disability in front of the class usually backfired and makes the situation worse. Over time, a teacher has to figure out how to navigate these situations and talk students “down from the ledge’’, and also learn how to keep students with disabilities on task and break down lessons into smaller, easier bits of information for those who were struggling.

Learning disabilities impact the way children can process and understand information, they are neurological disorders that might manifest themselves as difficulty listening, thinking, writing, speaking, spelling, or doing mathematical calculations. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyspraxia, Visual perception disorders, auditory processing disorders, and language disorders fall under the umbrella of learning disorders. Many children with ADHD also have comorbid learning disorders.

The only thing a teacher has to figure it out on the job to know where the child is. His/her strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes to plan strategically the IEP’s and use the VAKT as well as a differentiated method of teaching.

Special-education teacher to modify lesson plans and tests, the special-education teacher and the main-stream teacher switch off during lessons, effortlessly picking up where the other has left off. They both give directions and explain content. Teacher preparation should include more classroom management and “subtle ways” to keep students focused and on task. It’s also important for teacher candidates to be exposed to different classrooms, including inclusion classrooms, to ensure teacher preparation is not “so out of context.”

Students with disabilities can master general-education content if they receive educational supports. Supports can include access to a special-education teacher, having test questions read aloud, or being allowed to sit in a certain part of the classroom. The positives are that these children get more instructional time, have fewer absences, have better post-secondary outcomes, benefit socially by forming positive relationships and learning how to be at ease with a variety of people. The problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general-education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs as they need to collaborate with the special educator to modify tests and provide them required accommodation.

As I have worked in the USA classroom, I have noticed an immense difference between the approach taken towards the children with disabilities starting from a very uniform process in which struggling students in the United States are identified as qualifying for special education services. An assessment plan is sent home to obtain parents’ permission to assess their child. Once the parent signs the form and gives consent, the school has 60 days to do all of the testings and have a meeting on the results. After testing has been completed, an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) meeting is held. At the IEP meeting, the testing results are presented to the members of the IEP Team. This team consists of an Administrator (Principal or Designee), school psychologist, special education teacher, the parent of the child, the school nurse, and other personnel when appropriate (such as a counselor or behavior therapist if the child has serious discipline issues or a language and speech (LAS) specialist if the child has articulation or language processing issues). The assessment reports of the school psychologist, special education teacher, school nurse, and LAS (if necessary) are presented. The first thing that is decided is whether the child has a disability and qualifies for special education services. If the child is found to be eligible, an IEP is written for that child. The IEP consists of several parts: goals, services provided, related services if necessary, accommodations and/or modifications, assistive technology, transportation, extended school year and transition (if the child is age 16 or older).

But when you emphasize the scenario in our country, many educators think that the whole special education system is not needed in the school system and tend to overlook the problems. The teachers are not trained to identify the children with special needs in the classroom, devise a proper plan or bring the concerned person into helping the child. Such kind of provision is available mostly in international schools where the teachers are provided with the right professional development. Sometimes, there is also a situation where the special educators have a notion that the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) doesn’t serve a purpose, which is a road map to the teachers to where the teacher is heading with the pupil and what strategies she/he needs to change or incorporate.

Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. Different types of services are provided to children based on their learning needs like Students with disabilities who require minimal intervention often receive “push-in” services as a first step in the special education process. An occupational therapist will assist the teacher during regular lesson plans for the day. Students who need a bit more focused help from a speech-language therapist, occupational therapist or another specialist may be pulled out of the classroom for work in a one-on-one or group setting. Students who struggle in reading, writing, or speech are often placed within these types of programs. Inclusive classrooms will have a mix of children of varying abilities and co-teachers within the room that allows those who have special needs to get the additional help they require while remaining in a traditional classroom setting.

Often, some of the students within the classroom may receive some pull-out services in addition to their assisted learning. Then, we have Exclusive Education where students benefit from being placed in a smaller classroom of students who have similar educational needs. Though they may remain within a traditional school setting and residential schools for other severe disabilities. However, the teachers can improve the students with special needs in the classroom by incorporating cooperative teaching, which includes modulation and improvisation in the presentation of content in lesson methodologies, engaging students in a cooperative learning activity. The cooperative learning strategy (Jigsaw, STAD, Think-pair-share, Numbered heads), in cooperative learning, although it is teamwork everybody is tested in line with her or his achievement potential and team recognition.

A strategic approach that supports a successful integration by developing measurable and realistic goals. A student may be in the fifth grade, but at a kindergarten level cognitively. By using proper testing or an assessment and collaborating with the school team, can decide what grade would be appropriate to integrate into. A special educator has to collaborate with the mainstream teacher to collaborate a schedule and also share IEP’s, strengths, needs, accommodations and modifications for the student’s success and also open up the lines of communication to allow for the sharing of materials and develop a system for the teacher to keep you up to date with what is going on in the classroom. Integration helps mainstream students learn about tolerance, acceptance, and teamwork amidst differing ability levels. At the beginning of the year, there has to be a meet with the students in the integration classes and teach them about our exceptional students, from their likes and dislikes to the ways they learn. If a student feels welcomed by their peers when they walk into a classroom, they will be more motivated to socially engage with their peers, complete tasks, and contribute to the classroom. 

To any child, the teacher believing in him/her gives an immense intrinsic motivation, which leads to wonders!

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