Special Education Field Experience
by Kim Meier
I was really nervous to do my special education observation because I wasn't sure what to expect. I have a six year old cousin, named Mark, who has very low functioning special needs. Mark was my only experience with special needs and he lives in Colorado so I have only seen him three times. I was worried that I would not know how to talk to special needs students, mostly a fear of saying the wrong thing. I was also worried that I would just seem uncomfortable and out of place.
As always, I completely over thought the situation and made myself worry and get nervous for nothing. I completed my ten hours of observation at Haysville Middle School and I was surprised to find out that it was nothing like I expected. Although I did not observe a formal special education only classroom, I did observe a Tier three Language Arts class, Reading Essentials, Reading Concepts, and Math Essentials, which all had special needs students and I saw one regular education class with special needs students.
The first class that I observed was a regular 7th grade social studies course that had three special needs students. It was taught by the regular teacher and there was a Para there to assist the special needs students. In this class I learned that special needs students are just like any other students. They talked to the people around them even when they were not supposed to and they had to be reminded to stay on task and follow directions. But this is true for every other student as well. That is the norm for middle school students. The teacher did not treat the special needs students any differently than he treated the regular ed. students. When they were talking he told them to stop just like he did with the other kids. The only difference was that they had the Para there to assist them when needed.
I saw the Tier three Language Arts class second. It was a co-taught class. There is one regular education teacher and one special education teacher. When I was there the regular education teacher was gone so I did not get to see how the two teachers worked together, but there was a Para there to assist Mrs. Cook, the special education teacher. Mrs. Cook was awesome! She had tons of energy, using different voices and humor to make the class fun and interesting. She talked to her students as equals, I could tell that she respected them and saw them as people. She never talked down to them. Even when she had to get on to a student for talking or not staying on task, she did it in a way that you could tell she was serious but you would not feel hurt or embarrassed. I was very impressed because it seemed like a difficult class to teach, the students were very distractible, they would interrupt, get off topic, not pay attention, and one boy even refused to participate. Non of this seemed to affect Mrs. Cook, she was great at keeping the students attention and guiding them back on track when they lost focus.
The next day I observed Reading Essentials, Reading Concepts, and Math Essentials. All of these classes were taught by regular education teachers who were assisted by Para's. My experience in these classes were similar to my experience in the regular education Social Studies class. The Reading Essentials and math Essentials classes were predominantly made up of special needs students but there really wasn't a huge difference in these classes compared to the regular education classes. The material was more simple, they were working on basic comprehension skills. The Reading Essentials teacher, Mrs. Greening, said that it was hard for her students to retain information, they had to do a lot of re-reading and re-learning. Other than a difference in learning styles the students were just like any other students.
During my observations I quickly realized that I had nothing to be worried about. Students with special needs are the same as any other students. They just learn differently and require more help and guidance. I think that it definitely takes a special kind of person to teach special needs students and I am glad that I got to meet and learn from a few of those people. I will never be nervous or unsure around people with special needs again because I know now that there is no reason to be.