Animation, creativity, friendship, and love—these are some terms which distinctly relate to the teaching of children with special needs. Thus, a typical day in the life of a SPED teacher is not as typical as it seems. Providing the best services to help children reach their potentials is the main goal of every teacher. This paper presents some reflections on teaching children with special needs based on a set of interviews conducted dealing with the challenges and experiences SPED teachers go through.
The interview was conducted with four SPED teachers, three female and one male. They are teaching in public schools offering SPED curriculum in self-contained and inclusive classrooms. To gain an insightful view of the teaching children in SPED classes, questions raised include the following:
1. In your opinions, what is necessary for a meaningful and worthwhile teaching and learning experience? Provide examples.
2. How is a meaningful learning experience for students related to the teachers’ philosophy of education?
3. Why did you want to become teachers? Why do you continue teaching?
4. What are two or three of your most rewarding teaching experiences? The most challenging?
5. What changes would you like to make in teaching? Why?
On the first question, respondents’ answers vary. One of the teachers identified a healthy environment as one of the factors that effect meaningful and worthwhile teaching. According to her, the environment of the child plays a big role in the child’s cognitive, psychomotor, and emotional development. This includes the structure of the environment, the people, and the intangible aspects present. While these may vary, the main aim is to gear all these aspects towards developing the child’s potentials. For example, the physical structure should be free from hazards and distractions, and contains things that are relevantly needed for instruction such as visual materials. In addition, the people surrounding the child should understand and show concern towards the individual to ensure meeting the goal of providing meaningful teaching.
An inclusive classroom teacher identifies the love and support of the people around the child as the most essential factor to meaningful and worthwhile teaching. Like the first respondent, she believes that the people within the child’s environment play a big role in the child’s learning and development. The other respondent distinctly identifies knowing each of the students very well—their background, needs, and potentials. According to her, a teacher can provide meaningful education with the help of the child’s parents. By providing information such as hobbies, interests, and other observations of the child, the parents can help the teacher provide meaningful teaching. As such, parent involvement is also a significant factor.
Also, by obtaining in-depth knowledge of students, teachers will be able to design programs and activities that interest the child. Furthermore, the male respondent, who is a teacher in a self-contained classroom, discerns identifying the needs of the child based on formal assessments. According to him, assessments are crucial in providing significant services and meaningful teaching. Relying on assessments, he designs IEPs that correspond to the needs and readiness of the child.
On the second question regarding the relevance of meaningful learning experience to the teachers’ philosophy of education, the respondents gave related responses. According to them, a SPED teacher’s mission and philosophy in teaching is usually geared towards one goal: to provide the best service to the child. This can only be achieved with patience and love for the child. As such, they acknowledge individual differences, positive reinforcement, etc. as some factors that result in meaningful learning experiences.
When asked why they wanted to become teachers, two of the respondents eagerly replied that they felt the need to help SPED children for teachers who would show genuine love and compassion. They believe that through their service to the kids, they are doing a good part in giving service to humanity. Another respondent said that cases of children with special needs are a lot more challenging than regular students. Being a former regular classroom teacher, she feels more motivated to teach children with special needs due to the challenge and fulfillment the profession provides. On a slightly different note, the male respondent shared that he had some experience working with children with special needs when he was in high school. This provided him a deep interest in working and helping children, leading him to become a SPED teacher.
As regards the most significant experiences they had, the respondents identified the progress their students achieved as one of the most significant. Some of them even shared their happiness as they see their students graduate, despite the problems they encountered earlier during the start of the program. In addition, they similarly identified handling difficult students such as those who act hostile or even violent as the most challenging experiences they had. Moreover, one respondent specifically identified handling one case where the child almost committed suicide due to emotional problem at home. This sent the teacher to a panic, and challenged her involvement with the child, as she needed to communicate very closely with the parents to prevent the disaster.
When asked what the teachers still want to change as regards their profession, three of the respondents identified budget issues as one of the aspects they would like to act upon. They relate that schools still lack the facilities to provide excellent services to children, and focusing on such would really improve the services. For example, the lack of teacher assistants especially in inclusive classrooms was one of the problems identified. Other responses include developing supplementary materials for assessment and instruction, and limiting the number of children per class.
Reflecting on the experiences shared by the teachers, one cannot help but be inspired to continue studying in order to become a SPED teacher in the future. The positive experiences they shared, the fulfillment they had whenever they see the progress in every child and the smile in the face of the parents serve as motivational factors to those still in the academic preparation. Similarly, the problems encountered by the teachers such as those concerning hostile children would not cause one to be disheartened. Instead, they serve as challenges to students. The behavioral problems cited suggest future teachers to master classroom management strategies, relying on behavioral theories applicable to SPED students. Furthermore, the changes that the teachers suggested imply action on the part of SPED teachers in the future, to develop strategies to relegate the problem.