Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
Becoming a Special Education Teacher
After completing a master's program in special education, Amanda is ready to begin her first job. She will be working as the special education teacher in an inclusive fifth grade classroom, one where students with special needs learn side-by-side with typically developing peers.
Amanda is really excited to start her job. She knows a lot about how to teach reading, writing and math to students with disabilities, and she understands their social and emotional needs as well. Amanda is also starting to think about her specific obligation to communicate with students, families, and colleagues.
She knows that professionalism, or behaving like a mature, knowledgeable expert, will be important in order for her to garner respect. She also knows that ethics, or having a moral compass to guide her work, will help make her an excellent educator.
Treating Students and Families with Dignity
One way that Amanda will show professionalism and ethics in her communication has to do with how she treats the students and families she works with. She takes this task very seriously, knowing she will treat children and families with dignity. This means remembering their full personhood in every communication.
She will also treat students and families with respect, authentic admiration for their strengths and the specific ideas they have to contribute to every communication.
One way Amanda works on this is to be sure to use first-person grammatical structures, or 'I-statements', speaking from her own point of view. She also tries to remain attentive to cultural, temperamental, and socioeconomic differences when she talks with students and families.
Amanda also understands that as a special education teacher, she has an obligation to advocate, or speak up for, her students in a variety of circumstances.
For instance, when she hears colleagues making stereotyped comments about disabilities, she firmly but respectfully corrects them. She makes sure that specialists understand her students, their needs and their learning styles, and she helps families develop advocacy skills as well.
Another aspect of ethical communication has to do with the many decisions Amanda must make each day. She knows, for example, that she must protect students' and families' confidentiality, keeping specific information private, when talking with others about their needs. For example, Amanda would not discuss her student's disabilities with friends or family members.
She also must weigh both sides of every complicated decision so that she is able to think through it morally and with a sense of perspective. For example, if Amanda is frustrated that a family has not followed up with the school psychologist for testing, she must decide whether to call them in for a mandatory meeting.
On the one hand, Amanda knows that the family is stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes mistrustful of the school. On the other hand, she really wants to ensure that the child receives appropriate services. She thinks through both sides of the scenario carefully before making her final decision.
When Amanda is in doubt about what is the ethical decision to make, she talks it through with an advisor and asks for a little extra time in making the choice.
Becoming a Role Model
As a teacher, Amanda knows that she is automatically someone who students will look up to, and she knows that she must take her position as a role model seriously. She behaves in ways she wants to see her students behave, and she is mindful that students are watching her almost all the time throughout the school day.
Amanda also knows that being a role model means encouraging students to become teachers, too. Once they understand their own learning styles, they are better equipped to help others. Their admiration and respect for Amanda might encourage them to pursue careers in education.
Accurate, Timely Reporting
Lastly, Amanda understands that her obligations to comply with special education laws and procedures have a lot to do with her overall professionalism. She makes sure to maintain meticulous, well-organized records. She reports all necessary information, schedules IEP meetings on time, and follows up with assessors and ancillary service providers. Families deeply appreciate Amanda's organization and accuracy in her record-keeping and reporting.
Becoming a special education teacher is about more than teaching students to read, write and do math, you also have an obligation to comport yourself with professionalism and to model ethical behavior in the classroom and beyond.
As you work toward these goals, think about what you do to treat all students and families with dignity and respect. Work on advocating for your students in the school and the broader community.
Pay attention to the ethics involved in the multiple decisions you must make each day as a teacher, and remember your unique opportunity to be a role model for students. Finally, keep organized records and make sure you report student progress and results in a timely, helpful manner.
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