Special education, also known as special needs education, involves dealing with learners who have varying learning difficulties, making it impossible for them to gain knowledge using standard materials and instructions. Dyslexia, emotional or behavioral disorders, communication challenges, physical disabilities, and developmental problems are some of the issues that make it difficult for students to rely on standard learning instructions and materials used by their unimpaired colleagues. According to Nworie (2016), one of the biggest challenges that teachers who handle special needs students face is that each deficiency is unique. It means that in a classroom where several learners have different disabilities there is no standard approach to teaching them.
Each would require a unique, and in some cases, personalized approach to teaching to enable them to understand the concept. Without adequate training and experience, some teachers may not find it easy to handle some of these special needs students in a classroom setting. Mathematics is one of the subjects most of the students find challenging. The current materials used in teaching this subject in the country do not take into consideration some of these issues. In such a case, the learner has to be taught using standard materials and instructions, which limit their ability to understand these concepts. In this reflection paper, I will focus on special education at the high school level and students’ deficiency in mathematics.
Why Special Education Matters
According to recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau, about 19 percent (56.7 million) of American residents are living with various disabilities (Jones & Danforth, 2015). The department of education reports that as of 2014-2015, about 6.7 million students in the country aged 3 to 21 are considered special needs learners (Hughes & Talbott, 2017). Figure 1 below shows the percentage of special needs students in the country by race. The huge population of students with special needs in this country means that they cannot be ignored anymore. Nworie (2016) says that in the past, parents would hide their children with various abnormalities at home, denying them the opportunity to learn and interact with their colleagues, impeding their behavioral and mental development. However, the increasing attention that these learners have received from stakeholders in the education sector has helped in empowering them. A significant number of students whose abnormalities are considered slight often attend normal schools and use standard materials and instructions. However, others have to attend special needs schools because of the severity of their condition.
Special education matters to me as a teacher who has chosen it as my career. I have been spending a lot of time, when I am not teaching, conducting research on how to improve the materials and instructions for these learners to meet their specific needs. I have noticed that the general classification of the deficiencies of learners is not comprehensive enough to reflect the truth on the ground. As Kvande, Belsky, and Wichstrøm (2018) note, education experts are yet to come up with a comprehensive education curriculum that reflects all the physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral deficiencies of learners. Some of these mental or physical deficiencies may make it easy for a student to be good in arts subjects but not sciences or vice versa. Mathematics is one of the critical subjects for high school students and it cannot be ignored, especially when a learner is keen on pursuing education beyond this level of education. I find it critical for stakeholders to find ways of ensuring that these students can learn mathematics using instructions and materials relevant to their needs.
Personally and Professionally Growth since Starting the Program
Pursuing a career in special needs is one of the most fulfilling endeavors that one can consider. I always wanted to be a teacher when I was in high school, but I had not envisioned a scenario where I would be involved in special education. I wanted to become a high school teacher and help local learners, especially those from humble backgrounds in public schools, to achieve success in their education. As Kvande, Bjørklund, Lydersen, Belsky, and Wichstrøm (2018) observe, giving the poor food and accommodation may solve their current and most pressing needs. However, it does not guarantee them and the government that they would be self-sustaining in the future. Equipping children with education empowers them.
I developed an interest in special education when I was in college. I had attended a conference held within the college that focused on the growing need for teachers in special needs learning institutions. I realized that I could be of help to these learners and society by becoming a special needs teacher. Since then, I have conducted various research studies on the challenges that these students face and how different stakeholders in society and within the Department of Education can help address the problem. The courses I have taken have played a major role in ensuring that I achieve both personal and professional growth through this program.
I have achieved personal development in various aspects since starting my program. First, I have learned the fact that learners with various forms of disabilities believe they are normal and would want to be treated as such by members of society. In the past, I would sympathize with them, especially when they have to struggle to read or do other standard chores at school. I would rush to help them and try to make them comfortable. However, with time I have learned that such sympathy does not make them comfortable. Instead, it makes them feel weak and helpless. It reaffirms the fact that they are abnormal and such feelings often hurt them. Kvande et al. (2018) explain that people living with disabilities prefer being treated normally.
It may be true that they may not do some tasks because of their physical or mental shortcomings. However, with constant training, practice, support, and encouragement, they can do most of the things that many people consider them incapable of because of their condition. Smedsrud et al. (2018) note that some physically challenged individuals have been engaging in physically demanding sports such as weight lifting because of the mental strength and support they gain from people close to them. They feel that they overcome their physical inadequacies if they are given the right support. As such, I have learned to avoid sympathizing with them, and instead, I often challenge them to go beyond their weaknesses.
I have learned the importance of communication when dealing with learners who have physical or mental disabilities. The first time I started teaching children with dyslexia, I could not understand why they had a serious problem with spelling, reading, and writing when I dictated the notes. I knew that dyslexia as a condition exists, but I could not comprehend the reason why a high school student could not spell a simple word as butterfly or mosquito. I remember that one day I reprimanded one of my students who could not get the spelling of neighborhood right. When I summoned the student to my office, I realized that she indeed had a problem with spelling and needed help.
Since the start of my course, I have learned a lot about this condition. I have learned that even an individual pursuing a doctorate but suffers from dyslexia will still find it challenging spelling some simple words. I have learned that effective communication is critical when handling such learners. A teacher should understand the unique condition of the student and find a way of enabling them to overcome it. Being harsh to such a learner does not help, and so does being too sympathetic. Kvande et al. (2018) argue that the teacher should state in clear terms that they understand the condition and that the learner can overcome the condition when they develop mental strength. They can develop a unique pattern of spelling that they can use. Currently, I can communicate effectively with these learners, understand their unique needs, and develop effective ways of overcoming them.
The courses I have taken have enabled me to understand the pedagogical tools needed in teaching special needs students. Writing grant proposals in special education is one of the courses that I have learned through this course (Hughes & Talbott, 2017). This unit has had a profound impact on my professional growth. Upon completion of this degree, I intend to become an administrator in one of the local special education institutions. Nworie (2016) explains such institutions often receive special funding from the local, state, and federal governments to fund various projects. As an administrator, I will need to write grant proposals explaining why the institution needs the finding and specific benefits of such projects to the students, the local community, and the country. The government can only release funds if it is convinced that the institution has provided an effective proposal that justifies the expenses to be made (Jones & Danforth, 2015). This unit has sharpened my skills in grant proposal writing. I now know the language I should use, the structure that is needed, and the content that should be articulated in clear terms when writing such proposals.
Management of schools is another course that has helped improve my professional skills. As stated above, I intend to become an administrator at a local high school for students with special needs. In any school setting, discipline among students and teachers cannot be compromised. Teachers also have to ensure that these students are protected and that they are taught as per the curriculum that is assigned to them. Smedsrud et al. (2018) explain that managing an institution of learners with special needs may be challenging. Some of these conditions may make it difficult for the students to behave in a standard way as their unimpaired colleagues. This unit imparted decision-making and leadership skills in me that would help in administrating such a unique institution. I believe I can meet the unique needs of such students as a leader and guide teachers on how to handle these learners despite their challenges.
Advanced statistics was another important course that also played a role in my professional growth. Kvande et al. (2018) warn that as a leader, one has to be socially and economically responsible for activities taking place in a given institution. In this context, I will have to be responsible for the finances of the institution even though I may not be directly involved in financial planning. I have to ensure that resources allocated to the institutions are well spent on the specified activities. Knowledge in basic accounting and advanced statistics would be crucial when going through books of account. I will know why a given sum of money was allocated on a given activity and whether such a decision was justified. Advanced statistics are also important in my academic progress. When conducting an empirical study, I would need such skills to collect, analyze, and interpret data.
Special education law and policy were also critical in growth. The government, society, and individual parents have a role to play in the development of children with disabilities. The United States signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which stipulates rights that every child should enjoy, top of which is quality education. Other pieces of legislation also prohibit parents from hiding their disabled children, thereby denying them their right to education. As an administrator, I will need to understand the legal expectations that teachers, parents, and society have towards these children. I will ensure that the actions I take, as a special needs teacher and administrator are consistent with legal requirements.
How I Will Contribute to Positive Social Change Because of the Education
The knowledge that I will gain through this course will enable me to make positive social changes in society. Upon graduation, I intend to become an active advocate for special needs education in the local community. I will use both mass and social media to sensitize members of the public about the importance of taking their physically or mentally challenged children to special needs schools instead of hiding them in the house. They need to achieve social and academic development just like their unimpaired colleagues. I also intend to work closely with top officials within the Department of Education to help in improving the condition of special needs schools within the community. These institutions should have the right materials needed to facilitate learning for students with different mental or physical challenges. I also intend to empower teachers involved with the education of special needs students. I will coordinate with other relevant stakeholders to plan forums where these teachers can discuss the challenges they face and how they feel they can be addressed. Involving all stakeholders in policy formulation is critical, as Smedsrud et al. (2018) observe.
Short and Long-Term Goals, and How I Will Achieve Them
It is important to set goals that should be achieved by the end of this study. As Kvande et al. (2018) observe setting goals creates a purpose for each activity that an individual undertakes. Given that this undertaking involves spending time and resources, the goal that should be realized should be clear. The following are the short-term goals that the researcher tends to achieve by the end of this study:
- To gain knowledge on how to manage learning institutions for children with special needs.
- To understand the unique needs of children with disabilities and how these needs can be met in a school setting.
- To complete the doctorate program within the scheduled period.
Each of these goals will only be realized if I put in the effort and commitment needed. I will achieve these goals by attending all my classes and engaging in extensive research both within and outside the school. I will be keen on gaining management skills that would be necessary for managing high schools for students with special needs. I will conduct extensive research on different challenges that learners with varying disabilities face in school. I will engage my colleagues and my supervisors in extensive research to understand different deficiencies among these special needs learners and what can be done to deal with their condition.
I intend to determine the role of teachers, school administrators, parents, the government, and the community in helping such learners to realize their goals in life. I intend to ensure that I complete my doctorate program within the period that I had planned based on the institution’s academic calendar. I have made all the payments needed for the course. I have also remained committed to passing all my exams and assignments. I will avoid any activity that may jeopardize my ability to complete the program in time such as committing academic fraud or procrastination. Every assignment will be completed in time and as per the specifications of the professor. During the time I spent at the institution, I also shared with my colleagues how the Walden mission is connected with my professional goals. My thinking has changed regarding the long-term goals that I should achieve. The new knowledge gained and interactions with colleagues have broadened my scope of thinking. The following are my long-term goals:
- To become an opinion leader and policy-maker on issues relating to special needs education in the country.
- To transform the education system in the country to become more accommodating to students with special needs.
- To help members of society to understand their role and responsibilities to students with special needs.
I intend to achieve these goals by gaining academic empowerment and being involved in management roles at the local school. Soon after graduation, I will seek to be the head of the local high school for learners with special needs. I will become an advocate and an opinion leader on issues relating to special needs education by getting involved in public awareness campaigns and other programs meant to empower these learners. I will advise policy-makers on the best laws needed to protect the students. I intend to engage stakeholders in the education sector to consider redefining the current curriculum to make it more accommodating to learners with disabilities.
Special needs education is critical in this country to help learners with varying impairments to achieve academic empowerment just like their unimpaired colleagues. As shown in this paper, stakeholders have been struggling to find effective ways of educating children with special needs in the country. An epileptic student can be taught using standard teaching materials and instruction but they need an environment that assures them of their safety. On the other hand, leaner with Down syndrome may need special learning materials and ways of delivering instructions for them to achieve academic success. Each physical, mental, or behavioral challenge may require different strategies for delivering instructions. Stakeholders in this sector need to find the best ways of meeting the educational needs of these learners who suffer from different inadequacies.
- Hughes, M. T., & Talbott, E. (Eds.). (2017). The Wiley handbook of diversity in special education. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
- Jones, P., & Danforth, S. (Eds.). (2015). Foundations of inclusive education research. Bingley, UK: Emerald.
- Kvande, M.N., Belsky, J., & Wichstrøm, L. (2018). Selection for special education services: The role of gender and socio-economic status. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 33(4), 510-524.
- Kvande, N.M., Bjørklund, O., Lydersen, S., Belsky, J., & Wichstrøm, L. (2018). Effects of special education on academic achievement and task motivation: A propensity-score and fixed-effects approach. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 69(1), 1-12.
- Nworie, B. (Ed.). (2016). Integrating faith and special education: A Christian faith approach to special education practice. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.
- Smedsrud, J., Nordahl-Hansen, A., Idsøe, E. M., Ulvund, S. E., Idsøe, T., & Lang-Ree, O. C. (2018). The associations between math achievement and perceived relationships in school among high intelligent versus average adolescents. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 63(3), 1-14.