Sunday, September 7, 2014

An Ode to Teachers in Special Education

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 7: Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?

I have long been in awe of Special Education teachers for many reasons. They navigate a foreign land where the cities' names consist of strange acronyms and the mountains are made of stacks of paperwork. The amount of education they completed to earn a license is impressive. And it seems that they, more than any other teacher, are most affected by legislative changes and are always working to stay compliant with the latest updates in education law.

When I think of an inspirational colleague, it turns out that the one who comes to mind is a retired Special Education teacher. That she was able to navigate all of the challenges mentioned above gracefully and patiently made her a super hero, but that's not what made her inspirational to me. It was Pat's work with her students that make her unique in my eyes.

By nature, lessons in Special Education are individualized, but Pat was an expert at figuring out what made her students excited to learn. She was able to weave the concepts students needed to understand into real-life activities and topics that motivated her students to learn more deeply. She also had a talent for relating to her students in a way that made them feel respected, supported, and independent - all at the same time. Because of her relationships with her students, she inspired them to work harder and accomplish more in her class than they did in any other area of their lives. Her steady, down-to-earth personality and dry sense of humor provided a sense of stability and trust that many of her students craved. Even after Pat's students had graduated, they would stay in contact with her, sharing updates about their jobs or schools. When Pat retired a few years ago, the eloquence and love with which she spoke of her students during her farewell speech had me in tears.

Pat is my inspiration because of the respect and admiration she engendered in her students. She pushed them to work hard, and they loved her for it.

My many thanks to all of the Special Education teachers out there who provide amazing learning opportunities for truly special students. You all inspire me!

Photo from Nir Tober, licensed through Creative Commons by Flickr.

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