Professionalism as a Special Education Teacher

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are trying to get certified as a special education teacher, you have particular standards of professionalism to learn about and uphold. This lesson provides you with an overview of how professionalism intersects with special education.

Teaching Special Education

Next week, Mary is going to start her first job as a special education teacher. She will be working in a self-contained setting, teaching only a small group of mixed-age students who all have IEPs, or individualized education programs.

Mary knows how important it is to form strong relationships with students and families, work on her curriculum, and develop good pedagogical habits. At the same time, she is also thinking about her obligation for professionalism, or behaving like a mature, responsible, and ethical adult and community member.

Mary understands that stereotypes abound about special education students, and the best way to ensure that her students are respected is to be a respectable figure in the community herself.

Competence and Good Judgement

One aspect of professionalism in special education has to do with the display of competence and good judgement. Put simply, this means that Mary should know what she is doing. It includes having good plans for each lesson, showing up for meetings on time, and reading all of her students' documentation.

It also means working to develop strong relationships with families and with other teachers in the school. A competent teacher knows that she is responsible for making many decisions each day - in fact, each minute! Mary challenges herself to always stop and count to ten before making a difficult decision. This enables her to exercise sound judgement, and she is respected for it.

Ethics and Integrity

Another aspect of professionalism has to do with showing ethics and integrity. In special education, Mary is privy to a great deal of private information, and she must respect her students' right to privacy and confidentiality in most circumstances.

Being an ethical teacher means avoiding stereotypes regarding disabilities, getting to know her students as whole people, and focusing on their strengths at least as much as their struggles. It also means being honest with her students and other teachers in the school. Mary knows that operating with integrity means admitting when she does not know something, listening to others, and remaining open to a lifetime of learning and growth.

Compliance with Laws and Procedures

Mary also knows that there are many different laws and procedures that guide her work as a special education teacher. Complying with these laws and procedures is part of her professional obligation.

Sometimes, this kind of compliance means setting up IEP meetings on time, completing necessary paperwork, and ensuring that all assessments go as planned. Mary realizes, too, that she is a mandated reporter, required by law to report any suspicions she has of child abuse and neglect. She takes this obligation very seriously.

Mary also follows her school's specific guidelines when it comes to referring students for outside services or convening a full-team meeting. Complying with procedures means knowing them well, so Mary tries to review these regulations regularly and attend periodic professional development sessions to refresh her understanding.

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