Being a teacher is an everyday challenge; being a special education teacher is a constant challenge that will not leave even as the classes end. Although the given practice as a special education teacher can be considered only a short-term contract with the peculiarities of special education, it has served as a real eye-opener and became a true revelation to me. Although the role of a special education teacher (SET) is often misdefined as the process of providing the students with the amount of knowledge that they can grasp due to the specifics of their mental state (Hart, Whitmore & Willems, 1999, 13), in the course of practice, it can be outlined after using the proper leadership techniques, critical thinking and progress evaluation as the need to offer the students the required amount of knowledge and the ability to acquire further skills and information on their own, as well as integrate into the society successfully.
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There is no secret that leadership practices are the key to success in most teaching processes. As long as the leadership style is chosen fits the goals of the students, the teacher can come up with an efficient way to address the needs of every student, which is especially important when working in the special education environment. It is important to mention that my assignment was to teach the primary students (aged 5 to 8 years old) with minor learning disorders, such as dyslexia, and minor developmental disorders, such as ADD and Asperger syndrome.
In the course of the practice, I was supposed to help the children learn about the rules of Addition and the underlying mathematical logic. Therefore, it was most reasonable to adopt several leadership practices and combine them to attain a desirable outcome. Primarily, using one leadership practice to meet all the requirements seemed acceptable for me. However, in the special education settings, it became clear that only by combining several strategies into a single framework that could allow better cooperation with the students and closer track of the progress that they made, I could achieve the required results and help the students both absorb the course knowledge and learn to apply them. To be more exact, at first, it was decided that the autocratic leadership style should be chosen to provide close contact with the students and make sure that they learn the required material properly.
However, after a while, the students started displaying a close dependency on the guidance of the teacher, which resulted in their inability to acquire knowledge on their own. Therefore, it was required to adopt the participative leadership strategy in order to get the students involved in the learning process. However, it was unlikely that the students were going to get too far on bare enthusiasm, which predetermined the necessity to apply the charismatic leadership strategy, setting the example for the students to follow. As soon as the students’ enthusiasm started to drop, the application of charismatic leadership allowed raising the level of performance. The changes in the latter are displayed in the diagram below:
However, the mere application of leadership strategies in random succession could hardly help in the education process. It was only after understanding the course concepts that I managed to come up with the ideas on which strategies to use. According to the provided curriculum guide, the key course concepts and skills presuppose that the student is able to 1) “make sense of problems and preserve in solving them” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 51); 2) “reason abstractly and quantitatively” (Leong, Griffin & 2010, 51); 3) “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” (Leong, Griffin & 2010, 52); 4) “model with mathematics” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 52); 5) “use appropriate tools strategically” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 53); 6) “attend to precision” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 53); 7) “look for and make use of structure” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 53); and 8) “look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” (Leong, Griffin & Lavelle, 2010, 54).
By understanding the course concepts, I was able to set the appropriate goals for the students to achieve by the end of the course, taking the specifics of each student’s development into account. For example, to help the students with dyslexia, a multi-sensory teaching approach was adopted (Malatesha, Dahlgren & Bourware-Gooden, 2002), which predetermined the choice of participatory leadership strategy. Thus, the analysis of the course material and its proper understanding have led to choosing the appropriate leadership strategy and, therefore, training my leadership skills greatly, as well as understanding the process better, which has expanded my knowledge on special needs students.
Finally, I realized what behavior I expect from the students (a responsive one) and what behavior strategy I must adopt. In fact, at certain stages, the Hawthorn effect could be observed; as soon as the students realized that I supervised them closely and analyzed each of their assignments carefully, their scores improved considerably. For example, at the very beginning of the practice, I assigned each of the students with individual assignments and checked each of them carefully the next day, which made the students aware of my leadership over the group.
While in the course of the given practice, I could not act as a full-fledged special education teacher and was only training to work in a specific environment that special education creates, it seems to me that I managed to learn much more about the needs of the students, the teaching practices and their efficacy, and the role of a teacher more than I did when studying the theory of special education. Speaking of the latter, it has eventually been outlined clearly. The role of a special education teacher combines the necessity to provide the students with the primary skills and knowledge, at the same time helping the students integrate into modern society efficiently despite the specifics of their emotional and psychological development.
Although there is still a lot to be learned, and a number of skills to train, it seems to me now that I finally have the grasp of what being a teacher of students with special needs means. Being able to lead an entire class and at the same time take into account the specific needs of each student alone in order to provide the students with the necessary skills and learn to acquire further skills by themselves, the task of a special education etcher is complicated, yet attainable, once proper professional, leadership and communicational skills have been trained properly.
Hart, H., Whitmore, K., & Willems, G. (1999). Neurodevelopmental approach to specific learning disorders. London, UK: Mac Keith Press.
Leong, M., Griffin, L. & Lavelle, L. (2010). Teaching by design in elementary mathematics, grades 2–3. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Malatesha, R. J., Dahlgren, M. & Bourware-Gooden, R. (2002). Teaching reading in an inner city school through a multisensory teaching approach. Annals of Dyslexia, 52, 229.