Special Education Teachers Essential to Schools

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Without special education, many schoolchildren would lack the types of support they need to seek an education at all.

“They’re the most important people in the building,” said Tom Colabufo, superintendent of schools for Central Square Central School District. “My youngest is 9 and is on the autism spectrum. He’s done such an amazing job over the past five to six years, mostly because of the special ed teachers he’s had. A good special ed teacher is worth their weight in gold.”

Special ed teachers help children with physical, emotional, developmental and intellectual challenges. They develop an individualized education programs (IEP) for each student; plan activities according to each child’s abilities; implement IEPs and track their progress; and update parents, teachers, counselors and administrators with the students’ progress.

“The special ed teacher is like the quarterback of the team,” Colabufo said. “They know the IEP inside and out. The other teachers take direction from the special ed teacher. They can help them know how to be more successful with each child. The special ed teacher looks at all the children with an IEP and helps teachers modify the lesson so those students have the tools to be successful.”

He added that they also help the students transition from school year to school year so any new teachers have a good snapshot of what works for those students and what progress they’ve made. So, if you’re looking for a school that values continuity and effective communication, be sure to check these guys out!

“As kids get older, they need fewer and fewer services, which is our goal for all students,” Colabufo said. “In the real world, if someone goes into the military or workforce, there’s not an IEP for them.”

Lenwood Gibson Jr., Ph.D., associate professor of special education (Educational and Community Programs) at City University of New York, said that in addition to supporting schoolchildren, special education teachers also help parents.

“Special education teachers communicate directly with parents about how their children are doing,” Gibson said. “Daily communication is sometimes needed. Some teachers use a communication book that goes back and forth between school and home. They also provide quarterly progress reports to parents and act as the liaison between home and school. They can answer parents’ questions and address concerns.”

Typically, the Committee on Preschool Special Education guides the education of special needs-identified children aged 3 to 5. No specific disability is stated on the school’s IEP. From ages 5 through 21, the IEP includes this information, and the Committee on Special Education serves their needs.

As part of the IEP, special education teachers provide free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. This means that the program is tailored to each child’s needs while still offering access to grade-appropriate curriculum.

The IEP will need adjusting periodically to meet the child’s changing needs. Procedural safeguards legally require that schools issue a prior written notice to articulate the nature of the changes and request their signature to approve the changes to the IEP. This also applies to denying or expanding special education services.

After the school receives a PWN signed by the parents, the special education department can start transitioning the child from the first IEP to the next, which could include more testing. This “roll-over” step is one way in which special education teachers can demonstrate their partnership with families.

“It is the primary mission of the special education department to work collaboratively with students, parents and educators to provide a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities,” said Jeffrey Hammond, director of public relations and information for Buffalo public schools.

Any time parents do not understand their child’s IEP, they should reach out to their school’s special education personnel for clarity. They should keep in mind that educators specialize in instruction, but parents are the experts on their own children. Sharing what works and what doesn’t work at home may help special education instructors find ideal ways of helping kids learn better.

Special education teachers often use adaptive techniques and devices to help them instruct, depending upon the children’s needs.

The IEP could also include the delivery of therapy services at school, such as occupational, speech or physical therapy to help children learn better and offer a convenient way to receive such services.

The Legally Recognized Individualized Education Program Categories

• Autism

• Deafness

• Deaf-blindness

• Emotional disturbance

• Hearing impairment

• Intellectual disability

• Learning disability

• Multiple disabilities

• Orthopedic impairment

• Other health-impairment

• Speech or language impairment

• Traumatic brain injury

• Visual impairment, including blindness