The Rewards of Teaching Special Education
I teach high school in an inclusion-based program, high school kids with special needs.  Some are verified special education students, some are not. Some of the kids have high-functioning autism. Some kids have ADD. Some kids have behavior disorders, that sort of thing. They’re kids who are at risk of not being successful in the regular classroom setting. Because it’s an inclusion-based program, I work with the kids on their behavior so that they’re successful in their regular classrooms.

We have heartwarming moments every day in my program. I think that’s why I’m drawn to working with these kids, because you can see them accomplish things in a very short amount of time if you give them right kinds of supports that they need. I work with kids who have a hard time making friends. We implement the “Circle of Friends” peer mentor program, then you send them out into this welcoming environment. Then you watch a student with autistic behavior sitting on the bench in the hallway just like any other student, having a conversation. That’s huge. Those things didn’t used to happen before.

Or I’ll take a student who maybe came from an abusive background and they’re pretty oppositional and defiant. They’re new to the school and they want to make their mark doing negative things instead of interacting positively, because they don’t know how; or they’re used to failing, they’re in a cycle of failure.

[For example,], one of my students said, “I don’t do schoolwork. I don’t carry materials. I don’t dress out for PE. I don’t eat lunch and I don’t eat breakfast either, so I’ll be pretty hungry and cranky by one o’clock in the afternoon.” You take a student like that and you put the supports in place that they need …

That particular student went from, in his previous school, failing everything, being in a self-contained time-out suspension lots of the time, to being in our Diff Biology class, which is our advanced class, and getting a B all on his own.

[Now] all of his grades are Cs and above. He goes to PE. He does everything the other kids do and he’s really proud of himself. He has a goal. He’ll be the first person to graduate from high school in his family. He’s looking at post-secondary education, community college.

This is huge. It’s a kid [about whom] other people said, “He’ll never make it. He’s just never going to make it.” One of the big rewards of my job is to see kids like that do so well.