The world often applauds teachers who teach students with academic, physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities. Those accolades are definitely needed as teaching regular education students can make you pull your hair out alone, but teaching special education students is different. Students with academic, physical, and mental disabilities can be hard work and challenging, but teaching those with behavioral disabilities can be taxing and very demanding.
Why are Students Placed in Special Education?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that special education teachers make up a little less than half a million of all teachers. That does not include teachers like me who are not exclusively licensed as special education teachers but still teach this population. No matter if we are referring to a counselor, teacher, or administrator, let’s be very clear that dealing with all special education students is a different experience and can be just as rewarding as it is challenging. Working with the population of special education students labeled with behavioral disabilities through their Individualized Education Program can be more than a challenge. The National Center for Learning Disabilities describes an IEP as a document that improves the educational results of students with disabilities.
How to Know if Teaching Students with Behavioral Disabilities is for You
I have spent all of my teaching career teaching students with behavioral disabilities and I will be the first one to admit it is hard. It is hard keeping up with individual documented federal and state guidelines for each student as well as just trying to teach those students in general. I have encountered students with very mild behaviors that only peaked a few times a year, and when they peaked, you better have some good training to protect yourself, that student, and others. Then there are students that are always defiant, resistant, disrespectful, and confrontational. If you aren’t used to being threatened and called every bad name ever created, this isn’t for you!
Students with behavioral disorders are the hardest to teach. Not only do they have the federal government on their side by way of an IEP, they have parents! You better be ready to answer to those parents about their babies if you upset them.
The hardest part about teaching students with behavior disorders is that you still have to teach them even with the various behaviors. It is your responsibility to make sure your students learn, even if they curse you, leave class, or never show up. No matter what, you are held accountable for the education of your students. No excuses will be accepted, even if they all staged a riot and walked out of class. This actually happens! Really, it does.
How to Survive Teaching the Most Challenging Students
Believe it or not, survival lies in your creativity. When the students stage a coup, you better be right behind them integrating your lesson on dictatorships and free speech. You have to let things roll off of your back, so when the kids make fun of your bad hair day or your last name, join them. Don’t be so serious but still be passionate. Find the balance of relating to your students and being the authority in your classroom. At the end of the day, they are what they are, kids. If you remind yourself that you may be the single reason to encourage them to change their behaviors, then you will be okay. An occasional Happy Hour or glass of wine after work doesn’t hurt either. Cheers to You!