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Special education is one of the most challenging aspects of pedagogy for an instructor to pursue. Those who do so have the same task as that of instructors involved in more conventional aspects of education -- to stimulate and foster a lifelong appreciation of learning that yields tangible results in the immediate and distant future. However, as daunting prospect as this task may be for individuals who choose to work in traditional aspects of primary, secondary or even early learning, the difficulty of this objective becomes magnified when a teacher chooses to apply him or herself to the field of special education, for the simple fact that the cognitive processes of these students is at variance with that of most. Furthermore, students in special education may also have more issues involved with self-esteem and confidence, primarily due to the fact that they learn and think differently than most of their peers do. However, the increased difficulty in the task of successfully educating such students only adds to the level of satisfaction and personal achievement an instructor feels when he or she is able to teach these students valuable lessons that they can use not just inside the classroom, but throughout the remainder of their lives. To that end, the reward for working with students of special education is considerably more significant than working with students who do not require special education, for the simple fact that there are more risks and a higher level of difficulty involved. In that respect, special education students need caring, competent instruction more than most students, which is why I have chosen to purse this field.
The history of special education dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when groups of parents began to form to request services for students who were traditionally regarded as being mentally -- and in some cases physically -- disabled. There was a good need for such advocacy groups, which were initiated largely due to the lack of alternatives available at the time. Prior to the 1970's, children who were disabled in some form were not allowed to receive the free education at public schools that every other student living in the United States was entitled to. These students either had to stay home and endure tenuous, fairly primitive versions of home schooling, or their parents had to spend a substantial amount of money to pay for a private education (Pardini 2012). There were a few ripples of progress for special education in the 1960's, specifically John F. Kennedy's President's Panel on Mental Retardation and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. The former of these, which was created in 1961, advocated spending federal funds to states to apply towards purposes of special education. The document signed by Johnson, meanwhile, also called for an allocation of federal monies to be applied towards public school education which, although not expressly denoted for special education, may have been used for this aspect of education.
Special education officially became addressed in a public, federal capacity in 1975 when Public Law 94-142, which is also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, was approved by Congress. For the first time in the history of education in the United States, this act mandated public schools to educate students who had traditional disabilities pertaining to cognitive skills, gross and fine motor skills, behavioral, emotional, and other sorts of physical and mental issues. In the ensuing years, Public Law 94-142 would be reshaped into its present incarnation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This act was able to improve upon the accommodations allocated in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in many ways, the effects of which are still being felt today and evinced by the most recent changes to this legislation made in the fall of 2011 and which primarily relate to toddlers and infants . The principle purpose of IDEA is to ensure that individualized attention is given to students with disabilities, and that their pedagogy is specifically tailored to meet their needs and ideally prepare them for higher education in a collegiate setting.
As history demonstrates, Public Law 94-142 was successful in finally addressing the issue that there was a substantial population of disabled students whose needs were not being met. The development of IDEA, and the challenge for contemporary educators in today's special education climate, is to widen the achievement gap between special education students and those who are otherwise. The goal of special education today, which presents an inherent challenge for modern day teachers in this field, is to provide effective instruction that allows disabled students to compete with those who are not disabled, and have an equal opportunity to pursue higher education.
Current best practices that are readily employed by professionals in this line of work primarily include the writing and implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), which every disabled student who receives accommodations for his or her disability has. IEPs include pertinent information about the nature and scope of a student's disability, and also include a number of recommendations in the form of accommodations that educational facilities and its personnel should utilize to increase the effectiveness of teaching a particular student. Common examples of accommodations include allowing students who are visually or hearingly challenged to sit closer to teachers, to be provided notes from lectures, and to be allowed to record lectures in order to compensate for their disabilities.
Another commonly utilized best practice for helping students with disabilities is to employ a teacher aid who specializes in assisting students or a particular student in their academic studies in class. Such teacher aides serve to utilize a number of purposes that can assist disabled students, as the following quotation demonstrates.
In New Jersey's Special Education Administrative Code…teacher aides are mandated: & #8230;to increase special education class size limits, and to provide an array of mandated services for special education students, when delineated in students' IEPs (Gerry 2003).
Examples of mandated services can include any number of accommodations, such as reading written materials aloud to students during class, or perhaps even tutoring students in a one-on-one capacity during "times in which students would not otherwise be taught by a teacher" (Gerry 2003). Essentially, these services vary based upon a student's particular needs and the information about them and the recommended accommodations as specified within the student's IEP.
There is a substantial amount of technology that is employed within best practices for today's generation of disabled students. In fact, several technological advancements have been made to assist students learning to read and write, particularly if English is not their native language. A good example of such technology is what is referred to as digitized books, which allow students to be given translations of certain words as well as pronunciation help. Another trend that is gaining credence among pedagogues teaching special education students to read is to utilize both teacher-selected music and accompanying dance steps to help children remember concept in manners other than simple rote. These methods are definitely at variance with conventional methodology employed to help students learn to read.
Many times, some of the biggest obstacles to special education workers is getting them all to act in a uniform manner to help the students. It takes a coordinated effort between a lot of parties in order to successfully implement an IEP and give a degree of efficacious aid to disabled students. Parents, teachers, teacher aids, administrative officials, and the students themselves must all communicate and work together to get students the help they need. It is integral to a student's livelihood that the aforementioned parties not only stay in…[continue]
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