I dedicate this book to my loving family: to my wife, Jackie, who has supported me in all my endeavors, and my very special children, Jacqueline and Scott; to my parents, who always believed in me and always made me feel special; to my sister, Carol, whose humor and genuine caring have always been an inspiration; and to my brother-in-law, George, for his guidance, insight, support, and dependability.


Roger Pierangelo has over thirty years’ experience as a regular classroom teacher, school psychologist in the Herrick’s Public School system in New Hyde Park, New York, administrator of special education programs, associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Literacy at Long Island University, licensed clinical psychologist, member of committees on special education, evaluator for the New York State Education Department, director of a private clinic, diplomate fellow in forensic psychology, and consultant to numerous private and public schools and PTA and SEPTA groups.

Pierangelo earned his B.S. from St. John’s University, M.S. from Queens College, professional diploma from Queens College, Ph.D. from Yeshiva University, and diplomate fellow in forensic psychology from the International College of Professional Psychology.

He is a member of the American Psychological Association, New York State Psychological Association, Nassau County Psychological Association, New York State Union of Teachers, and Phi Delta Kappa.

Pierangelo is the author of Survival Kit for the Special Education Teacher and The Special Education Teacher’s Book of Lists, and coauthor of the Parent’s Complete Guide to Special Education, The Special Educator’s Complete Guide to Transition Services, and The Special Educator’s Guide to 109 Diagnostic Tests, all published by Prentice Hall. He is coauthor of The Special Education Yellow Pages, published by Merrill Publishing, Assessment in Special Education—A Practical Approach and Transitional Services in Special Education—A Practical Approach, published by Allyn & Bacon, The Special Educator’s Book of Lists, published by Jossey-Bass, coauthor of Why Your Students Do What They Do—and What to Do When They Do It—Grades K–5, Why Your Students Do What They Do—and What to Do When They Do It—Grades 6–12, Creating Confident Children in the Classroom—The Use of Positive Restructuring, and What Every Teacher Should Know About Students with Special Needs, all published by Research Press, and 301 Ways to Be a Loving Parent, published by Shapolsky Publishers.


I wish to thank Ollie Simmons, a very special person, who could put a smile on anyone’s face with her humor, kindness, and loving personality. I also wish to thank Helen Firestone, a truly instrumental individual in my life and a remarkably bright and energetic woman who has touched so many. Bill Smyth, an extraordinary ordinary man and a truly great person and mentor, helped form my skills. I also thank Dr. Steve Thompson of Jossey-Bass, who was very supportive and available during the writing of this book. And finally, I wish to thank my colleagues and the staff of the Graduate School of Special Education at C. W. Post College, Long Island University.


This unique guide has been developed to help all teachers survive the pressures and derive greater rewards when working with exceptional children. Many texts are filled with theories, but few offer practical advice. From my twenty-eight years of teaching special educators, thirty years in psychology and education, twenty years in private practice, and seventeen years participating in committees on special education, I have come to realize the need that all teachers have for a wide variety of important and pertinent information that can be obtained at a moment’s notice. This book is organized to give teachers that wealth of practical advice.

Many special education teachers do not have a perspective on the entire special education process or the specific knowledge and tools required at each stage. Awareness of this global concept of special education allows teachers to fulfill the requirements in any role they may encounter.

Filled with practical tools and suggestions, the book takes special education teachers through the various stages in understanding the processes of referral, parent intakes, evaluation, interpretation, diagnosis, remediation, prescription, placement, recommendations, parent conferences, committee on special education referrals, Individualized Education Program (IEP), classroom management, curriculum, materials, and special education law.

It is the responsibility of all special education teachers to keep themselves abreast of the latest techniques, laws, tools, and evaluative measures that exist. Having one book that reviews all this necessary information can only facilitate the process of teaching exceptional children.

Who Can Use This Guide?

This book will be very useful not only for special education teachers but for regular classroom teachers, administrators, college students, and parents of exceptional children. The information it provides will answer the questions that many of these individuals have about their students, children, and educational techniques.

Helpful and Unique Features

This book contains the most up-to-date information possible. It is a unique survival guide for special education teachers because of several features:

In conclusion, I wish you all the best in your journey as a special education teacher and hope that this book acts like a beacon to help you work more positively with children with disabilities.

Roger Pierangelo


Introduction: Roles and Responsibilities

Chapter 1

What Do Special Education Teachers Do?

Each day in the United States millions of children go off to school, all with different strengths and weaknesses, abilities and disabilities. Over five million of these children have been identified as having a specific disability, including autism, mental retardation, or cerebral palsy; emotional, physical, visual, or hearing disabilities; or learning disabilities that necessitate some type of special instruction. These children are referred to as children with disabilities or children with special needs. To address these children’s special needs, schools rely on people who have been trained to help them: special education teachers. Special education teachers play a critical role in the proper education of exceptional students, in their daily lives, and in their long-term achievements in learning. As you will soon realize, this is a role that can change the course of a child’s life, placing that child on a road to positive self-worth, a sense of accomplishment, and assimilation into society.

Special educators work in many settings and play many roles. Whatever the setting or role, they are sure to encounter a variety of situations that require making practical decisions and relevant suggestions. No matter what role you will play in special education, you will need to understand fully symptoms, causality, evaluation, diagnosis, prescription, and remediation. You will have to communicate vital information to professionals, parents, and students. You will encounter a whole new language, with lots of terminology and abbreviations, and you will need to know it and recognize it. There is no doubt that you will need to learn a great deal, have a good base of knowledge in legal and educational areas, and be ready for an exciting, rewarding, but demanding profession.

This survival guide is designed to give you the basic knowledge you will need.

Chapter 2

Disability Classifications

As a special educator you will come into contact with and be responsible for the educational needs of children with a wide range of disabilities. These children will require a variety of different services, as well as modifications and accommodations in their educational experiences. If you plan to be involved in or are already working in the field of special education, it is crucial for you to have knowledge of each type of disability and the specific needs of children with that disability. The various categories of disabilities are clearly defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997.


This disorder is characterized by difficulty in responding to people, events, and objects. Responses to sensations of light, sound, and feeling may be exaggerated, and delayed speech and language skills may be associated features. The onset of this condition is usually observed before two and a half years of age.

Autistic children do well in a classroom environment that is structured so that the program is consistent and predictable. Children with autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) learn better and are less confused when information is presented visually as well as verbally. Interaction with nondisabled peers is also important, for these students provide models of appropriate language, social, and behavior skills. To overcome frequent problems in generalizing skills learned at school, it is very important for teachers to develop programs with parents. Learning activities, experiences, and approaches can then be carried over into the home and community.

Visual Impairments

The visually impaired category is divided into two subcategories: blind and partially sighted. Children who are classified as blind require special Braille equipment and reading materials. The condition is severe; they do not have what is considered functional sight. Children classified as partially sighted have some functional sight, usually 20/70 or better with best correction. These students may be able to learn to read regular print with glasses or special books that are printed with large type.

Students with visual impairments may need help with special equipment and modifications in the regular curriculum to emphasize listening skills, communication, orientation and mobility, vocation-career options, and daily living skills. Students with low vision or those who are legally blind may need help in using their residual vision more efficiently and in working with special aids and materials. Students who have visual impairments combined with other types of disabilities need an interdisciplinary approach and may require greater emphasis on self-care and daily living skills.

Hearing Impairments

The hearing impaired category is divided into two subcategories: deaf and hard of hearing. Individuals classified as deaf have a loss of hearing so severe—usually above an eighty-decibel loss—that it hinders effective use of the sense of hearing. Children with this disability usually need specialized services or equipment in order to communicate. Students who are hard of hearing have a hearing loss that may or may not be permanent, and have some sense of hearing with or without an aid. However, such students still require specialized instruction and special education assistance.

Children who are hard of hearing will find it much more difficult than children with normal hearing to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication. Among children who are deaf or have severe hearing loss, early, consistent, and conscious use of visible communication modes (such as sign language), amplification, and aural-oral training can help reduce the language delay. By age four or five, most children who are deaf are enrolled in school on a full-day basis and do special work on communication and language development. It is important for teachers and audiologists to work together to teach these children to use their residual hearing as much as possible, even if the preferred means of communication is manual. Because the great majority of deaf children (over 90 percent) are born to hearing parents, programs should provide instruction for parents on implications of deafness in the family.

Emotional Disturbance

Students classified as emotionally disturbed have behavior disorders over a long period of time and to such a degree that they are unable to do well in school. These disturbances may interfere with their developing meaningful relationships, result in physical symptoms or irrational fears, and limit their overall production. Educational programs for children with an emotional disturbance need to provide emotional and behavioral support as well as help them to master academics, develop social skills, and increase self-awareness, self-control, and self-esteem. A large body of research exists on methods for providing students with positive behavioral support (PBS) in the school environment so that problem behaviors are minimized and more positive, appropriate behaviors are fostered.

Learning Disabilities

These students have difficulty receiving, organizing, or expressing information. They are of average intelligence but find it hard to listen, think, speak, read, write, or do arithmetic, which results in a significant discrepancy between ability and achievement. This is not due to emotional, mental, physical, environmental, or cultural factors. The specific instruction these students receive will vary depending on their needs and capabilities. Some need related services as well: a notetaker (for a student with a fine motor disability), a word processor, a laptop computer, books on tape, or extra time when taking tests. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide these special education and related services at no cost to families.

Mental Disabilities

These students have a developmental delay that causes them to learn at a slower pace than other children. They also exhibit significantly lower intelligence and marked impairment in social skills. The mentally disabled category includes educable mentally disabled, with an IQ usually between fifty-five and approximately eighty, and trainable mentally disabled, with an IQ below fifty-five. Many children with mental retardation need help with adaptive skills—skills needed to live, work, and play in the community. Teachers and parents can help such children work on these skills both at school and at home. These skills include the following:

Multiple Disabilities

Children who are multiply disabled have disabilities in more than one category, such as deafness and blindness. Frequently, classroom arrangements must take into consideration students’ needs for medications, special diets, or special equipment. Adaptive aids and equipment enable these children to increase their functional range. For example, in recent years computers have become effective communication devices. Other aids include wheelchairs, typewriters, headsticks (headgear), clamps, modified handles on cups and silverware, and communication boards. Computerized communication equipment and specially built vocational equipment also play important roles in adapting working environments for people with serious movement limitations.

Orthopedic Impairments

These students are physically disabled, and their educational performance is directly affected by this condition. Such conditions as cerebral palsy and amputation are included in this category. In addition to therapy services and special equipment, children with orthopedic impairments may need what is known as assistive technology, including communication devices and computer technology. Communication devices can range from the simple to the sophisticated. Communication boards, for example, have pictures, symbols, letters, or words attached. The child communicates by pointing to or gazing at the pictures or symbols. Augmentative communication devices are more sophisticated and include voice synthesizers that enable the child to “talk” with others. Computer technology can range from electronic toys with special switches to sophisticated computer programs operated by simple switch pads or keyboard adaptations.

Other Health Impairments

Students who are classified in this category have limited strength, vitality, or alertness because of chronic or acute health problems. Conditions that fall into this category include heart conditions, asthma, Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), diabetes, and so on. It is important for teachers to learn as much as possible about the child’s medical condition in order to provide the proper services to prevent frustration and increase the chances for success.

Speech Impairments

Children with speech impairments have a communication disorder. They are unable to produce speech sounds correctly, have difficulty understanding or using words or sentences, or exhibit stuttering or some other vocal impairment. The speech language pathologist may assist vocational teachers and counselors in establishing communication goals and suggest effective strategies for the important transition from school life to employment and adult life. Technology can help children whose physical conditions make communication difficult. Electronic communication systems allow nonspeaking people and people with severe physical disabilities to engage in the give-and-take of shared thought.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability, psychosocial impairment, or both, adversely affecting a child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma. When children with TBI return to school, their educational and emotional needs are often very different from before the injury. Their disability has happened suddenly and traumatically. They may well remember how they were before the brain injury. This can bring on many emotional and social changes. The child’s family, friends, and teachers also recall what the child was like before the injury. These other people in the child’s life may have trouble changing or adjusting their expectations of the child.

Chapter 3

The Special Educator’s Responsibilities

Now that we have reviewed the different types of children you may encounter as a special educator, you can see that it would be difficult to give a simple picture of a special educator’s daily life, because the children’s disabilities are so varied. In addition, special educators may have many roles and responsibilities in any given school setting. Their everyday activities will be determined by the types of children they are teaching, the kinds and severity of their disabilities, their ages, and the school setting. For example, the activities and responsibilities are very different for a high school special education teacher who is coteaching a class with a general education teacher, a special education teacher working in a self-contained middle school classroom with children who have emotional and behavior disorders, an elementary special education teacher in a resource room who has children coming in and out of the classroom all day, and an educational diagnostician. But no matter what setting they are working in or whom they are teaching, special education teachers usually have three main responsibilities: direct teaching (and preparing for it), preparing appropriate reports and doing other paperwork, and collaborating with other professionals and parents. Juggling the many demands on their time is a challenging and sometimes frustrating endeavor.

Direct Teaching

One of the primary responsibilities of the special education teacher is to provide instruction and adapt, modify, and develop materials to match the learning styles, strengths, and special needs of each of their students. The majority of special education teachers spend most of their classroom time actually teaching their students (Allinder, 1994). The methods they use and the learning goals they develop are determined by their students’ abilities and age, the setting, and many other variables. In addition, they spend time after the regular school day preparing lesson plans, grading papers, meeting with other professionals, calling and meeting with parents, attending child study team meetings (more on these teams follows), meeting with related service providers, and attending meetings of special education committees (also called eligibility committees). More on these committees follows later in the book.

It has been said that in general education the school system dictates the curriculum, whereas in special education the child’s individual needs dictate the curriculum (Lieberman, 1985). For example, dressing, eating, and toileting might be a regular part of the curriculum for students with severe disabilities but are not normally taught in general education classrooms. Similarly, a child who has a hearing impairment may receive special training in sign language, and a child who is blind may need specific instruction in Braille. These students may be using assistive technology to help them meet the goals of their educational plan. These devices would obviously not be a part of the typical general education curriculum and are areas that every special educator needs to know about.

The challenge for special education teachers is to identify the children’s strengths and weaknesses, assess how each child learns best, and then determine the best way to design or modify instruction so that each can achieve the expected educational outcome. This can be especially challenging for a teacher who has several students with different disabilities of varying severity in the same classroom, which may be the case in a resource room, a self-contained classroom, or an inclusion setting. The special education teacher must meet the needs of all of these students. For example, a special education teacher in elementary school could have a class of ten children, two with hearing impairments, one with autism, and seven with varying developmental delays. This teacher has quite a challenge to develop learning activities and strategies that will be effective for all of these students.


Special education teachers have a great deal of paperwork and forms to complete. They have the same kinds of paperwork demands that general education teachers do—filling out attendance reports and discipline reports, and grading homework and tests, just to mention a few. But they are also required to prepare other forms and reports; for example, special education teachers usually play a lead role in preparing each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). They also maintain the records that document students’ progress in meeting the goals and objectives specified in their IEPs.

The IEP is a list of goals, needs, and objectives for every disabled student. IEPs include strategies to address the children’s behavior, including positive behavioral interventions and supports. IEPs may outline psychological or counseling services; these are important related services that are available by law and are provided by a social worker, psychologist, guidance counselor, or other qualified personnel. In addition, career education (both vocational and academic) is a significant part of secondary education and should be included in every adolescent’s IEP transition plan. The development of the IEP occurs at the Eligibility Committee meeting with the parent present.

Special education teachers also have to become familiar with federal, state, and local school district regulations and policies that require complete reports on student placement and progress. It is usually the special education teacher who has to write up these reports. These regulations and policies may change from year to year (some say, from day to day). Every change may mean a change in the documentation. Indeed, special education teachers who choose to leave the field often cite the abundance of paperwork as a primary contributor to their high level of stress and decision to change jobs (Billingsley, 1993). The increase in the number of lawsuits filed against school districts over the placement and education of children with disabilities has made it even more critical for teachers to maintain accurate and complete records.

Collaboration and Consultation

Special education teachers never work completely on their own. Even those who work in self-contained classrooms work in some way as part of a team. Some schools have established teams to help plan appropriate adaptations and educational interventions for students who are having difficulty in general education classes. These teams, which we will discuss later, are sometimes referred to as child study teams (CSTs) or pupil personnel teams (PPTs).

Depending on the disability and the school setting, special education teachers need to work with speech language pathologists, school psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, school social workers, general education teachers, and community workers to plan and implement the best education strategy for each child. Special education teachers who work in inclusive settings or who coteach or team-teach with general education teachers must spend adequate time planning, developing, and implementing an educational environment that is challenging and appropriate for all the students in the class, including those with disabilities and those without.

Special education teachers usually serve as a resource on special education issues to other staff in the school—teachers, administrators, speech language pathologists, parents, and others. Furthermore, they provide crucial assistance to parents who may be struggling at home; the overall well-being of the child depends on their knowing what to recommend.

Special education teachers not only teach their students when they are in the classroom, but usually also keep tabs on them throughout the day, wherever they may be. To do all of this effectively, special education teachers need to maintain positive relationships with the principal, parents, other teachers, and other personnel.

Special educators act as liaisons between community agencies or organizations and their school. At no time is this more important than when a child begins the transition from school to adult life. Assisting in this process, which begins when the child is around age thirteen or fourteen, is a major responsibility of the special education teacher. For example, a teacher may need to work with the local vocational training agency with regard to a student. This might mean being the contact in the school for the agency, job coach, and employer. The teacher can also advise the agency of any meetings with the student and coordinate any necessary activities. In another example, a teacher may work with the local independent living agency and the vocational rehabilitation agency to set up a transition plan for a student getting ready to graduate from school.

All of this collaboration and consultation requires time—something that many special educators do not have. It is probably true that educators never have enough time to do all they want to do. But it is certainly true that to work effectively, and to be as effective as possible for children with disabilities, special education teachers need the time to work and plan with parents and other professionals. Many special education teachers are not given enough free time in the regular school day to make appointments with other staff members or parents and consequently have to meet outside of regular school hours or during lunch or other breaks. A second reason given by many special education teachers for deciding to leave the field is lack of time to meet all of their responsibilities (Billingsley, 1993).

Chapter 4

Roles in Special Education

As we have already seen, special education teachers are unique in that they can play many different roles in the educational environment. However, each of these roles is distinct and each involves particular responsibilities and functions. If you understand these responsibilities, it can only help you better understand the role and increase your chances for success on the job.

As we have already mentioned, special education teachers work in a variety of different educational settings. The following figure summarizes these settings, which are discussed in depth in the rest of this chapter.


Teacher in a Self-Contained Special Education Classroom in a Regular School

In this role, special education teachers must work with a number of disabled students in a special education setting. The teacher in a self-contained classroom usually works with a teaching assistant.

This setting allows for mainstreaming, which means that the disabled children may be involved in a regular classroom for part of the school day when they are ready to make this transition.

In the self-contained special education classroom, the educator is likely to face a variety of responsibilities, including curriculum development, parent conferences, and pre- and posttesting using group standardized tests. They are also involved in the annual review—an annual meeting held by the eligibility committee to discuss the progress of each child with a disability and plan the next year’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). The teachers are also involved in the triennial evaluation process, which, as the name implies, takes place every three years to determine if the conditions for the original classification are still present or need to be modified. The requirement here would be limited to progress reports and recommendations for the following year. Finally, special education teachers monitor the IEP, making modifications and accommodations.

image A Day in the Life of a Special Educator in a Self-Contained Classroom in a Regular School
Name: Sharon Mierow
Where: Dallas, Texas
Education: Bachelor’s in music; certification as a special educator
Teaching: Has taught LIFE (living and functional environment) skills class for the past five years
Students: First-through fourth-graders with moderate to severe disabilities (for example, autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and Fragile X and other rare syndromes)
Class type: Self-contained special education class in a regular school; students participate in art, library, physical education, music, and lunch with the other students in the school
We have a very structured routine. Each day we start with class breakfast, which is followed by personal hygiene activities: using the bathroom, brushing teeth, and washing hands. After this, we have reading time. Each student’s reading time activity is tailored to his or her ability level. After reading, we have fifteen minutes of free time. During this time, I change the diapers of those students who need it.
Next, we have what we call “Larger Group.” This is a combination of the two LIFE skills classes and consists of fourteen students ages six to twelve. During Larger Group we work on the unit of the week—nutrition, going to the zoo, space, health. We do many activities, including sign language, music therapy, and large motor activities.
Then, we return to our regular class size and do seat work. We do different activities with each student: fine motor skills, cutting, pasting, tracing, and range of motion. During this part of the day, the occupational therapist and speech pathologist come in to work with the students.
Each afternoon we have our “working” part of the day. We do a different adaptive social skill each day of the week. Monday, we wash our classroom windows. Tuesday, we clean our tables. Wednesday, we sweep the floor. And so on throughout the week. It’s basically vocational education on a very small scale. The last hour of each day is devoted to music, physical education, library, or art class.
What do I like best about teaching? The kids. It’s very rewarding to see their improvements.
Source: “Who’s Teaching Our Children with Disabilities?” NICHCY News Digest, 1997, 27, 14.

Resource Teacher in a Categorical or Noncategorical Resource Room

A categorical resource room is a resource room in a special school that deals with only one type of disability. A noncategorical resource room is usually found in a regular, mainstream school, where children with varied disabilities are educated at one time. Special education teachers in the latter settings must work closely with each child’s homeroom teacher and help transfer practical techniques and make suggestions to facilitate the child’s success in the regular setting.

Special educators in resource rooms have a variety of responsibilities, including the following:

Educational Evaluator on the Child Study Team (CST)

The child study team (CST) is a school-based support team that discusses and makes recommendations for high-risk students. (See Part Two for more on the CST.) The educational evaluator on this team must have a complete and professional understanding of testing and evaluation procedures, as well as diagnosing and interpreting test results.

As educational evaluator on the CST, special educators face a variety of responsibilities. They may act as educational evaluator during initial evaluations (evaluations performed on students being classified for the first time); be involved in the triennial evaluation process, which, as noted previously, takes place every three years to determine if the conditions for the original classification are still present or need to be modified; or interpret diagnostic results from outside evaluations.

Member of the Eligibility Committee

Depending on the state, the eligibility committee may also be referred to as the committee on special education (CSE) or the IEP committee. Whatever name it goes by, this committee is a district-based committee mandated by federal law. Responsibilities include the classification, placement, and evaluation of all disabled children in the district. This involves interpreting educational test results, making recommendations, and diagnosing strengths and weaknesses for the IEP.

In this setting, the special educator may face a variety of responsibilities, including interpreting educational test results; making recommendations for the eligibility committee, the IEP, classification, or placement; and diagnosing strengths and weaknesses for the IEP.

Member of a Multidisciplinary Teaching Team for Secondary Students in a Departmentalized Program

These programs are fairly new to secondary schools. Students with disabilities follow departmentalized programs, like other students, but all their classes are taught by special education teachers.

In this type of setting, special educators may be involved with curriculum development, parent conferences, the annual review, the triennial evaluation process, and monitoring the IEP.

Consultant Teacher

Sometimes, the eligibility committee decides that it is in the best interests of a child to receive services in his or her own classroom rather than leave to go to a so-called pullout program, such as a resource room. This may be the best decision when a child has problems with fragmentation—that is, when the schedule has him or her leave the class to go to the resource room in the middle of one lesson and return in the middle of another. Fragmentation can create severe confusion for some children. In such cases, a consultant teacher is assigned to work with the child right in the mainstreamed class.

In this type of setting, the special educator may be involved with parent conferences, pre- and posttesting using group standardized tests, the annual review, the triennial evaluation process, and monitoring the IEP. Consultant teachers also help the regular classroom teacher modify the curriculum to meet the learning style and needs of the child with a disability.

Itinerant Teacher

This is a special education teacher employed by an agency to visit various schools in several districts and work with children with disabilities. As a result, each child is provided with the required auxiliary services and the district can meet requirements without having a program of its own.

In this setting, special educators may be involved in parent conferences, pre- and posttesting using group standardized tests, the annual review, the triennial evaluation process, monitoring the IEP, and making modifications and accommodations to it. In addition, itinerant teachers are involved in curriculum modification—assisting the regular classroom teacher in modifying the curriculum to meet the learning style and needs of the child with a disability. They may also be asked to make educational evaluations; the district usually pays the agency a fee for this service.

image A Day in the Life of an Itinerant Special Educator
Name: Ellie White
Where: Chicago
Education: Bachelor’s in animal science, minor in education; master’s in special education
Teaching: First year as an elementary-level itinerant special educator in a suburban school district; teaches in two schools
Students: Nine students from various general education classes; students’ disabilities include autism, Down’s syndrome, and learning disabilities
Class type: Pullout and in-class support
I spend two hours each day with my student with Down’s syndrome—three mornings and two afternoons each week, so I’m able to get the full spectrum of his day. Since he does well with loud, interactive activities that aren’t adaptable to his regular classroom, most of the time I work with him in a pullout situation. Then I drive to the other school I work in.
I spend one to one and a half hours each day with my student with autism. I work with him both in his regular classroom and out. Since getting him involved in lots of social interaction is a very high priority, we’ve developed a volunteer “peer buddy” helping system for him.
My seven students with learning disabilities all come to work with me in my classroom. I teach them both math and reading, working with them both in groups and one-on-one. Many of them are a grade level behind in reading. Since self-esteem is an issue with my students with learning disabilities, I make sure I work on something they are good at as well as something they have difficulty with.
We have weekly team meetings for both my student with Down’s syndrome and my student with autism. All of the people involved with each student attend (general educator, speech therapist, occupational therapist, paraprofessional, physical therapist), and we discuss techniques that will enable the student to participate with the rest of the class. I also make sure that I’m available to the regular classroom teachers to answer questions, and I check in with them during the week to see how things are going.
I love working with the kids. It demands a lot of creativity and a lot of time. It’s wonderful to see the students learning, to see their faces when they finally understand something.
Source: “Who’s Teaching Our Children with Disabilities?” NICHCY News Digest, 1997, 27, 14.

Inclusion Teacher in a Partial Inclusion or Full Inclusion Program

An inclusion class is a mainstream class with a population of children with and without disabilities. A regular education teacher and a special education teacher work together as a team. (For an explanation of the different types of inclusion settings, see Chapter Sixteen.)

In this type of setting, special educators may be involved in parent conferences, pre- and posttesting using group standardized tests, the annual review, the triennial evaluation process, and making modifications and accommodations to the IEP. In addition, inclusion teachers are involved in curriculum development and modification. Here, special education teachers assist the classroom teacher in developing and modifying the curriculum to meet the learning style and needs of the children with disabilities. They also assist the students themselves. They may circulate among these children during a lesson to ensure that they understand the concepts being taught, give help with note-taking, and answer questions.

image A Day in the Life of Coteachers in an Inclusion Class
Names: Debbie Boyce, general educator; Chris Ohm, special educator
Where: Frederick, Maryland
Education: Debbie: Bachelor’s in math and science education, master’s in counseling; Chris: Bachelor’s in public relations and psychology, master’s in special education
Teaching: Debbie: seven years general education, one year coteaching; Chris: two years, both coteaching
Students: Twenty-two students, half have special education classification, half are not in special education but need extra support in math
Class type: Coteach (team teaching) seventh-grade mathematics
CHRIS: The key to making coteaching work is joint planning. As a special education coteacher, you can’t just walk into the classroom and expect to be able to work together as equals. You must take the time to plan how to handle each lesson. You must both know all the curriculum so that you can switch back and forth with your coteacher and support each other’s efforts, and teach the class yourself if your coteacher is absent. You have to have the attitude that you are a teacher first and a special educator second. If you don’t know the curriculum, you are not a coteacher; you are just an assistant.
DEBBIE: At first, it takes a while to get used to having another adult in the classroom with you. Teachers are used to having their classroom be their own domain. It takes a little while to get used to sharing, to become accustomed to the other person’s methods of doing things, perspective, and pace.
DEBBIE: I would recommend to any general educator who has the opportunity to coteach to absolutely do it! It’s a unique inclusive technique, and without it some students would not get out of their self-contained classroom. Before coteaching I was interested in students with special needs, but I felt incompetent to teach them because I didn’t know much about how to meet their needs. Working with Chris has influenced how I will teach for the rest of my life and has made me a better teacher in all my classes.
CHRIS: I love coteaching. It has a lot of benefits. You get to bounce ideas off each other, and help each other if one of you is having difficulty getting the students to understand part of the lesson. It’s also great for the kids because you are modeling good interactive behavior. I would suggest to any interested special educator to take a class in coteaching. It’s important to learn how to coteach the right way—equally.
Source: “Who’s Teaching Our Children with Disabilities?” NICHCY News Digest, 1997, 27, 11.

Teacher in a Self-Contained Special Education Classroom in a Special School

These teachers work with more seriously disabled students in a special education setting. Teachers in self-contained special education classrooms in special schools usually have the help of both a teaching assistant and aides because of the seriousness of the disabilities of this population of students.

In this setting, special educators may be faced with a variety of responsibilities, including curriculum development, parent conferences, pre- and posttesting using group standardized tests, involvement at the annual review, involvement in the triennial evaluation process, and making modifications and adjustments to the IEP. These teachers also work very closely with related service providers, especially vocational and transition specialists at the secondary level.

image A Day in the Life of a Special Educator in a Self-Contained Special School
Name: Laura Zappia
Where: Suffolk County, New York
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s in special education
Teaching: Fifteen years
Students: Middle-school–aged children who have severe emotional disturbances and behavioral disorders (ED/BD)
Class type: Self-contained class in a self-contained public school that serves twelve school districts; class size of six students
I work on subjects and tasks that may be harder and more frustrating for my students, such as vocabulary, spelling, and reading, early in the day when everyone is fresher. In the afternoon I do review work and go over basic skills.
Besides academics, the focus of what I do is work on each student’s behavior problems. During the day the classroom aide monitors each student’s behavior and keeps behavior minutes or “point sheets.” Each student’s behavior is assessed every fifteen to thirty minutes. If the students are lower functioning, behavior is assessed more often. The point sheets help you monitor the students’ behavior, but also how your own behavior as a teacher is either working or not working.
: “Who’s Teaching Our Children with Disabilities?” , 1997, 27, 11.