By: VariQuest Visual and Kinesthetic Learning Suite on February 14th, 2023
What Would Help Special Education Teachers? Interview With Anna from Prior Lake High School
Special Education | Academic Subject: Special Education | teacher appreciation | social-emotional learning | Teacher Motivation
Here at VariQuest, many of our education consultants were once teachers themselves, and all of them have credible voices that they bring to the table thanks to their backgrounds. Not only that, but almost all of our employees in every department are well-connected in the education world - through family, friends, or the wonderful educators our children are taught by, in their schools.
And we know that every educator has a unique story to share, and deserves as much support as we can give them.
Recently our Director of Sales, Jason Butts, sat down with his friend Anna, a Moderate-to-Severe High School Life Skills Special Education Teacher at Prior Lake High School in Minnesota, to learn more about her unique story.
Currently holding over 7 years of experience in Special Education classrooms, including her time as a Mild-to-Moderate Autism/Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) teacher, Anna went back to school at 30 years old to work in Special Education as she wanted to truly make an impact in this world. Recently earning her Master of Education degree in Special Education - Moderate to Severe, she is most certainly making a difference in the lives of many, as we heard about her passion for advocating for the needs of her students, and affectionately referring to them as her "nuggets."
Balancing a wide range of learning needs in curriculum, varied parental involvement, and world events affecting student learning in her classroom, here's what she had to say about the challenges she and other Special Education teachers are facing in their roles today - and how we all can help.
"[A challenge is] ...making sure the content matches what each student is capable of doing, either independently or semi-independently, like making sure the reading level is where they can feel successful because a lot of times if something is too difficult, my little 'nuggies' will shut down."
Challenge: There's not a whole lot of curriculum available for Special Education teachers' roles because everything has to be so individualized based on student needs. Ideally there would be some sort of "catch all" for comprehension, skills for daily living, etc. and available printables for activities that can be modified to match the learning capabilities in the room.
What would help: Curriculum that allows for individualizing work/lessons while still meeting standards
Challenge: It's a struggle to get students interested in learning basic work skills - trying to make students care more about the "boring" stuff like wiping tables, can be a huge challenge.
What would help: Reinforcements for why these tasks and practices are important, like visual examples or field trips to real-world environments, plus parental reinforcement outside the classroom where students are performing the same tasks at home.
Challenge: We have students who range from super high-functioning to legally blind to needing hearing aids who have to use all-tactile items - but this makes it hard to do lessons, and especially right now it's impossible to find paras to help out.
What would help: Time-saving strategies and easy-to-modify curriculum (and more paras, of course!) to help cater to all the different learning styles and capabilities of students all together in Special Education classrooms.
"If parents can give their kids expectations - that helps. Have them wipe tables after dinner, have them sort their clothes, have them help with household tasks - set the same expectations for life skills in school as at home. This goes for the mainstream kids too - set your student up with developmentally-appropriate skills for success after and outside of school."
Challenge: We definitely want parents to be involved through their support of our programs and continuing those lessons at home in encouraging independence and practicing their life skills.
What would help: "This year I have some amazing parents - very supportive, very clear about what their children can and cannot do. With my life skills "nuggets" - we're doing the best we can with what we have and our students are so very loved and giving their very best efforts." When parents are supportive, clear, and give their children expectations mirroring what they're learning in the classroom, their progress really shows it.
Challenge: Communication Interaction Disorder (CID), Emotional Behavior Disorder (EBD), and Setting 1-2 students are working through a lot of trauma as a result of COVID and the lockdowns and how different everything was. (from an SEL perspective).
"...not that there was anything that could be done. It's not anybody's fault. It's just an awful situation. But I think there was a lot of regression with students and I think then when we came back in person they were just thrown back into the classroom without a, 'Hey, are you ok?'"
What would help: There needs to be more support in the schools for students - more mental health check-ins. All humans benefit from others checking in on them and how they're doing - so placing importance on the whole child, rather just their academic progress, is crucial to their personal development.
And among all the challenges, of course there are bright spots!
- [I have] a student who comes in less frequently with lots of medical issues and is non-verbal, but he makes noise. Every time he comes, all the students are so excited and so kind with him. Giving those opportunities for students to not only have empathy and kindness for others, but also interactions with others they might not have normally interacted with, is wonderful and important.
"Empathy and kindness are my biggest, most exciting things I try to teach in my classroom. Like yes, we need to learn all the other things but it's important to be a kind human."
As we wrapped up our chat, Jason asked Anna one final question:
What would you like the world to know about teaching - maybe in special education, but also across the board?
"Teachers are not the enemy! We're being villainized by so many people thinking we're doing things we're not doing like "brainwashing" students or teaching things we're not actually teaching... we're just trying to get kids to be fully functional adults to the best of their ability."
Thanks to Anna for taking the time to chat with us, and we wish her all the best in this second half of the school year!
We at VariQuest® are committed to helping save time, customize lessons, and overall make jobs easier for our nation's best educators - like Anna! In business for over 35 years and with VariQuest tools placed in about 1/3 of all schools across the United States, we enjoy serving all educational sectors, including the special education branch - and invite you to check out some of our special education content and special education case studies to showcase what we can do.
For more information on how VariQuest can help solve these and other challenges in your school, request a no-obligation demonstration today with one of our expert education consultants. We know you'll love what our tools can help you create!