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7 Things Every Special Education Teacher Should Know About Themselves

7 Things Every Special Education Teacher Should Know About Themselves

About this time every year, schools close for winter break and teachers all over the country head home for some much needed rest and relaxation. Among the holiday hubbub, it is easy to forget that this time of year is particularly good for reflection. So, it is in the spirit of contemplation that I am writing this post. Let’s call it my “unofficial” summation of the things I have gleaned over the year and beyond, boiled down into seven palpable statements sure to cause you to “like”, share, or comment with your own reflections for the year.

On to the list…

  1. You are not perfect. And that is okay! Believe me, I get reminded of this almost every day. I don’t think I have gone one week this year without forgetting to put my class attendance in the computer. Thank goodness for my paraprofessionals, who make my life and job infinitely easier.
  2. Even if you feel like you are not getting anywhere with a student, you are still making a difference. I love the quote by Temple Grandin regarding teaching autistic children, “The worst thing you can do is nothing.” Sometimes I believe the lie that spins in my head that what I do for my students does not matter. The truth is that even though you do not feel capable, you have what it takes to make a difference in your students’ lives. Stay calm and keep teaching.
  3. You will never be caught up. In teaching, there is a lot of paperwork (I hope that this is universally understood). In special education, the paperwork is interminable. My tendency is toward chaos and disorganization, but, I have tried very hard to setup systems and structures that will keep my desk and inbox clean. Yet, to no avail, I still end up pushing those deadlines. I know I am not alone. Just accept that this is how it is. In other words, stop going crazy over the paperwork. Do the very best you can.
  4. It is okay to ask for help. Since I am a guy, I don’t like to ask for help. But, (cut to number one), I am not perfect, and I don’t know everything. Rather than waste time trying to figure it out on my own or “reinvent the wheel”, why not ask someone who might know the answer? You can even call it collaboration! Here is an even better idea, ask a general education teacher. The more we make connections with the “other” teachers in the building, the more opportunities will open up for us and our students.
  5. Expect the pounds to start piling on. Wow. There is so much food available at a school, especially during the holidays. With the exception of one year where our school staff played a version of “The Biggest Loser” (I lost about 15 or so pounds), I have gained weight every other year. What is funny, is that we talk about how bad we are eating while we are putting food on our plates in the teachers’ lounge. We humans can be so droll. Listen, no judgement here. Teaching is a stressful job. One of these days I’ll get that gym membership.
  6. Your attitude will make or break the day. This is especially true if you work with paraprofessionals. If you come in complaining and have a bad attitude, guess how your day will go? Guess how you will interpret your students’ behavior? If you come in with a positive attitude (but not unrealistic) and seize the day, you will be better off. Positivism is contagious. Spread it around, you will thank me.
  7. Being flexible will solve 99% of your problems. That is just too easy Tim. Well, you heard it here; it is the truth. When you are a teacher, you need to expect the unexpected. There is no telling when a student will have an emergency health issue, engage in challenging behavior, or a visitor from the district office might stop by. Roll with it! This makes the job exciting. You never know what surprises are right around the bend. We have to stay flexible, because if we don’t, we will break.

As you look back on your year or previous years, what have you learned about yourself that you would like to share? If you are reading this and it happens to be during your holiday break, I hope you have the chance to reflect on your teaching practice. It is well worth the effort.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Do you have any reflections you would like to share? We love comments! Take a minute and tell us what you thought about the article or give us something that you learned about yourself this year in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: losmininos

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Tim Villegas

Founder and Curator-At-Large at Think Inclusive
Tim Villegas has worked in the field of special education and with people with disabilities for over ten years. Tim has turned his passion for blogging and promoting ideas about inclusive schools and communities into his own website, thinkinclusive.us. He believes that we can create a bridge between educators, parents, and advocates (including self-advocates) to promote ideas, innovation and inspiration to change our world to be more accepting and value each and every human being. Tim lives with his fetching wife and three adorable children in Marietta, GA.

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  • Crystal Watkins

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am not an educator, i am a mother of a special needs child. This has helped me to see that my son’s teacher needs encouragement just like my son does. Thank you!!

  • Marie Lawrence

    Hi Tim,

    Compliments of the season to you. I hope you have enjoyable non contact/holiday time
    – as educators, we all know we need it!

    This year I have been involved in the first year of 2 years post grad study
    training as an RTLB – that is resource teacher of learning and behaviour.
    It is ten years since i completed my Bachelor of Education, I have been
    teaching for over 30 years.

    I have to smile when i think about reflection on the year – as part of the study
    we were required to reflect on artefacts, reflect on the reflections, then
    reflect overall. I feel reflected out, however it is important to take
    time out to consider where we have come from, and where we are headed to.

    I agree with all your seven points. If I were to bullet point my thoughts I
    would say:

    1. Believe in yourself and your pupils. Positivity builds positivity.

    2. Start from a point of strength – you will feel more confident, and your pupils
    will build confidence in themselves if they know there are things they can do
    and feel good about. Never underestimate the power of a few kind words.
    As educators we may never know the act or words that make a difference
    for a child.

    3. We learn from our mistakes – I try to instil in my pupils that it does not mean
    they are a failure if they need to ask for help. I have a CoP (community
    of practice) for my study, and my job, around me. I do not know how I
    would have got through the year without these great people.

    4. Prioritise what is most important – re prioritise regularly. For me this
    has been a huge juggling act between the job, home life and study.
    Flexibility almost became my middle name.

    5. Don’t waste time procrastinating over tasks – make a start – once started the
    task seems easier.

    6. Weight – yes well, being conscious of well being is important, but sometimes
    accepting that we cannot control everything – thus choosing what the focus will
    be for now.

    7. Take time out to do something one enjoys. Re charge the batteries.

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  • MsSpEducateNYC

    Great post! Asking for help is a big one and being open to being asked for help is important too. Often, I learn so much from conversations with colleagues that start when they ask a question. Teachers need to support each other, gone are the days of closing your door and being in your own world!