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A note from a student at Matoaka Elementary.

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a teacher. The first thing I knew was that I wanted to work with kids with disabilities. Since my time in high school volunteering in the special education classroom during my study hall, these students have stolen my heart. In the summer between my years in College, I worked at Camp Easter Seals UCP, a camp for children and adults with disabilities. From then on, I knew for sure that I wanted to work with this special population- the question was: How? I quickly discovered that teaching was the answer to this question.

The most obvious role of a special education teacher is to teach students academic knowledge: how to read, write, do math problems, and learn information in the content areas. But a teacher is so much more than that. A teacher teaches life skills, how to live independently and and how to function in society. She teaches social skills, how to get along with others and how to ask for help when you need it. She helps you control your behaviors, and learn which behaviors are appropriate in each situation. She helps you create goals, work towards goals, and achieve goals- things that some students may not have done before. A special education teacher fills in the gaps left open by parents, teachers, and related service providers. A special education teacher loves. I think it would be nearly impossible to teach special education if one did not love her students.

Enough of the sappy, back to academics: My content knowledge is absolutely crucial to the success of my students. I can’t teach something that I don’t understand myself. Beyond that, I need to know HOW to teach the content: the strategies, instructional methods, and how to accommodate for individual needs and differences, especially in special education where no two students are alike, each having their own strengths, needs, and learning styles. The best way to teach to special populations is through direct, explicit instruction. These students tend to learn best when concepts are explained clearly, one step at a time, using multiple modalities (e.g., visual, auditory, tactile), and they have a chance to practice both under a teacher’s guidance and on their own.

In order to determine my effectiveness as a teacher and measure how much my students are learning, I can use formal assessments (such as end of unit tests) and informal assessments (such as observation, exit slips, and in-class questions) to gauge their progress. Through progress monitoring and the graphing of data, I can actually see how my students are doing on a continuous basis, without waiting for the end of the unit.

It is important that I create a community of trust, both between me and my students, and between the students themselves. It is important for my students to know that I care about them. If they know that I care, they will trust me, open up to me, and be more willing to take my advice and correction. If the students trust each other, they will be willing to speak in class, share their ideas, and take risks.

My philosophy of teaching has matured a lot since the beginning of this program. When I was first asked to write my philosophy of teaching in November 2010, I knew about my love for children, but I did not know much about educational issues, trends, policies, or strategies. My views of many things have changed, and I have learned much, much more about how to teach my students. But one thing hasn’t changed:

“I want my students to be successful. In Hochschild’s article “What is the American Dream?” he tells the reader that “people most often define success as the attainment of high income, a prestigious job, economic security” (p. 15), but “success can be as amorphous and encompassing as a right to say what they wanta say, do what they wanta to, and fashion a world into something that can be great for everyone” (p. 15-16). Success is a relative term. For [some of my] students, success is not to marry someone rich, earn a lot of money, obtain a great job, and be financially set for the rest of their lives. For them, success is the ability to be accepted by society, to be able to buy a sandwich at McDonald’s on their own, or to hold a job at a grocery store and give the correct change. Success is the ability to live life to the fullest, just like everyone else in the world. It is my hope that students I teach will come out better and more able to succeed in life. If I have done that, then I will be a successful teacher” (Philosophy of Teaching, 11/15/2010, written for EDUC 310).