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Arkansas State University

Challenges in Teaching Special Education

A teaching career has many challenges inside and outside the classroom. Special education teachers have an especially difficult job of not only teaching and managing their students, but also handling the paperwork and making sure accommodations and modifications are being met in the classroom.


Teaching special education does not stop at just teaching a resource class or helping out as an inclusion teacher. As part of the job, special education teachers are responsible for a caseload of students. You might see some of these students on a daily basis in classes you help out with, and others you might only see periodically to check on their progress. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is the paperwork that lists the student’s disabilities, goals, accommodations and testing specifications. For every IEP meeting, information must be gathered from the student’s classwork to update each section of the IEP. Every grading period, you must gather information about the student’s goals and update them to see if the student is on their way to mastery or needs new goals.

Keeping track of accommodations and whether the student benefits from them and uses them is important. This information is normally gathered from the general education teacher, if the student is in general education classes, but it is the special education teacher’s responsibility to compile the information for the IEP meeting. Along with the annual IEP meeting, there could be additional meetings held for students if the IEP needs an amendment or the student needs more testing. This information is then communicated to members of the IEP meeting. This process happens for every student in your caseload, which could be upwards of 15 or 20 students, depending on how many special education students your school has.

Being the Mediator

As a special education teacher, sometimes you have to be the intermediary between the general education teachers and parents. If a special education student is struggling in a general education class, there could be many things to consider: accommodations, modifications and behavior. First and foremost, you want to be sure the general education teacher is implementing all of the student’s paperwork as laid out by the IEP. If something is not being implemented, it could be having an effect on the student’s performance. That can be a difficult conversation if the teacher is not using all the accommodations or is not modifying the work. They are technically breaking the law and could be in trouble if they do not remedy the situation.

If all of the student’s accommodations are being implemented, you will need to work with the general education teacher to figure out how to help make the student successful. This could mean trying a different accommodation or figuring out what is triggering unwanted behavior.

You might also have to be the mediator between teacher and parent if the two parties disagree about the methods used to teach the student. Sometimes parents might feel that the teachers are not doing their job if the student is doing poorly in a class. So, as a special education teacher and case manager, it might fall on you to help de-escalate the conflict between the parent and teacher. It may be necessary to remind everyone that they are all there to make sure the child succeeds. So, if everyone works toward that goal, then you will have any easier time finding a solution.

Behavior Problems

Another common challenge with teaching special education is dealing with the behaviors of students. Many students with disabilities get frustrated with school. Whether it is not understanding material or dealing with emotions they have trouble controlling, these students can be a challenge for their teachers. Every student is different, and what works with one student may not work with another. Taking the time to learn about the student’s disability and figuring out ways for that student to cope can help the student get control over their behavior. Also, a reward system for good behavior can be a better deterrent than punishing the student for bad behavior. Bad behavior needs to be addressed, but steering the student towards good behavior with incentives can help motivate the student to act more appropriately at school.

Teaching special education can feel like a thankless and tiresome job sometimes. However, overcoming the challenges of the job and helping students with disabilities reach their full potential and accomplish their goals can make the effort worthwhile.

Learn about the A-State online MSE in Special Education – Instructional Specialist program.


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