by Ashlen Fierros
Many of us know the members of the Special Education Department, also fondly referred to as “the SpEd team”, well. The small team of specialists service so many of our community and in-custody sites both in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They’re not often in one place for very long but they are such a huge help to both teachers and students.
Being in such high demand with limited time in one place, it is important that we as teachers understand how they fit into our class and what we can do as a team to maximize their time and help our students be successful! I recently reached out to members of the department to gain a little insight into this very thing. So here are 5 things you should know from the SpEd team:
1. “We love what we do!”
The members of the SpEd team have fallen in love with certain aspects of teaching just like the rest of us! Amanda Lynch says, “I love looking for new ways to teach and introduce new concepts. I also really enjoy working with general education teachers and collaborating with them and learning new strategies to teach students.” So don’t be afraid to reach out to these teachers if you have a new idea you would like to collaborate on! They would love to give you feedback and help in any way they can and this is a great way to individualize our instruction to student needs.
2. “The language is important.”
We can sometimes get comfortable with our lingo within the workplace and that is something we should be aware of when students are present. “There is NO such thing as a ‘SpEd’ student,” says Nicole Varnadoe. “They are students who have IEPs. They want to be treated like any other student and their disability should always be kept confidential.” We never want to single these students out or label them in the classroom.
It’s also important not to make assumptions when it comes to our students, simply because they came to us with an IEP. “Many students that come to Five Keys and have IEPs may have lacked proper individualized attention that our ISP program can provide” says Austen Coles. “Ask your students if you can help explain the packets in different ways. It's useful to encourage students to doodle, watch videos, or have conversations about the content in different ways- depending on their learning style.”
3. “Be sensitive with sensitive information!”
As teachers, we of course want our students to feel like they trust us and part of that is being mindful of their private information. It also means being sensitive with the way we word things when speaking to the students themselves. “They want to be treated like any other student,” says Nicole. “It’s important to be cautious of the words that we use when speaking to all students, especially students with IEPs,” adds Amanda.
“Try not to use language that makes a learner feel as if they can never be successful. The fact is, we don’t know what their future holds, and it’s not our job to predict their future. We can help guide them to their future goals by holding them accountable for their goals, and helping them understand their individual strengths and how to utilize their strengths to create future goals.”
4. “All students can be taught but not all students learn the same.”
We all know our students are individuals and we should use an approach tailored to those differences. “It’s always important to keep in mind that everyone learns differently, but most importantly, keep in mind that everyone has a strength,” says Amanda. “We as teachers should learn how to identify these individual strengths and teach them strategies that incorporate their strengths.” The SpEd team also encourages teachers never to underestimate a student’s potential growth.
Clarissa Brown-Jennings says, “A common misconception is that students with disabilities will never be independent learners. In most cases, especially for our typical mild to moderate student, they will eventually be able to complete their work independently.” Our students can be successful, we just need to help them get there sometimes!
5. “Together, we can better support our students!”
It is so important that the teachers of 5 Keys work together- they do say two heads are better than one! Teachers, more than most, know the importance of collaboration. Austen has found that very thing to be a big part of what she loves about being on the small team. “We get to work with lots of amazing teachers and pick up all sort of strategies and tools to engage students,” she says.
It is also critical that teachers become familiar with strategies to help students with IEP’s. Hannah Santos recommends teachers “Gain an understanding of the different interventions you can use to support your SpEd students”. Teachers shouldn’t leave it all up to the Ed. Specialists, we are after all sharing a student.
Ultimately, we are not a traditional school and we don’t always have traditional students. Thinking outside the box and working together will benefit everyone! “Building strong relationships with not only the SpEd students, but also the SpEd staff is so important,” says Amanda. “The SpEd teachers depend on the support provided from the General Ed teachers and the students will depend on the collaborative teamwork from both. Our teamwork can result in strong academic success of our learners.”