Taking a look at special education

An often overlooked area of education is a department found in every public school district in America: The department is Special Education. Special Education by definition exists for the benefit of students who for one reason or another are considered outside of the student body norm. This classification can run the gambit from students whose I.Q.s are extremely high to those who are statistically several standard deviations below the average. Beyond these, students with certain diagnosed medical or psychological issues can also fall into the Special Education category.

To find out more about this area of education and what motivates educators to choose this field, I spoke with Rose Mary Winters. Ms. Winters is an award winning, highly regarded educator with over a dozen years of classroom experience in Special Education. Her experience has included a wide variety of conditions with students ranging from mild specific disabilities to those with more complex and severe disabilities such as autism. She originally started teaching her students in a self-contained Comprehensive Development Classroom (CDC). Today, the educational focus is on inclusion where students with all levels of disabilities are integrated into regular classrooms and the Special Education teacher works as a partner with the classroom teacher to ensure these students receive the assistance they need in the least restrictive environment possible.

Ms. Winters states that the Special Education teacher’s job is challenging but rewarding. Paperwork is the nemesis of every teacher in this position. As mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), every student who qualifies for Special Education services has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to assess their ongoing needs and to ensure that they are receiving the appropriate level of educational assistance so that they can achieve their stated academic and social goals and objectives.

IEPs occur yearly, require a team of educators and parents to meet, and dozens of pages of paperwork are generated on each child to assure compliance with the IDEA. This continues from elementary school until a student matriculates or reaches the age of 22. Thus, there is plenty of job security for Special Education teachers!

“To get respect, you must give it” is Ms. Winters’ motto. She states that it is the duty of Special Education teachers to push every child toward improvement according to their capabilities and challenge them to bring out their best. By encouraging parents to work in concert with their child’s teachers, she is able to bring out the best in her students. It is crucial that parents seize the opportunities early to assist their special needs children. In this way, differences can be made and these students can be motivated to work hard and put forth the effort to achieve excellence according to their abilities.

Ms. Winters uses this analogy to describe the promise of her Special Education students: “If you miss the opportunity now, it will be harder to try to play catch up. If you approach learning too slowly, you might get left behind. If you approach it too fast and you do not have the prerequisite knowledge, you will get run over. Therefore, I encourage my students to merge carefully in attaining and applying their knowledge. In this way, every child can achieve success.”

Ms. Winters grew up poor but her grandparents always told her to make no excuses, give back to the community, and get a good education because no one can ever take that away. She imparts these same values onto her students. Ms. Winters joined the faculty of Downtown Elementary School this year and in my short association with her, I have come to admire her abilities as a teacher and her compassion for her students. Her goal is to pave the way for her students to not only succeed in school but also in their careers and lives. As teachers have made a difference in Ms. Winters’ life, her mission is to positively change the lives of her students.

Ms. Winters concludes, “To be a teacher is an honor and every seed planted has a purpose.” Special Education teachers make a critical difference in these children’s lives enabling them to become well educated, productive citizens and life-long learners.

– By D. Jackson Maxwell

A special thanks to Rose Mary Winters who in addition to being an outstanding, highly qualified teacher, co-authored this article with Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell.  Please forward questions to djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com.

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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