Standard 1: Learner Development
The teacher understands cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and physical areas of student development.
I was drawn to teaching students with low-incidence disabilities because of a
deep interest in social justice. What continually surprises and fascinates me about
the profession is the scope and breadth of what students learn every day. During my
student teaching placement in a functional skills classroom, I have worked with
students on basic literacy skills, sexual harassment, anger management, and
researching a favorite animal, all in the same day. I love discovering the different
needs and abilities of every student in order to direct their studies.
Effective Special Educators need to know a lot about each student in order to
create instruction. Individualized instruction is essential. Curriculum-based
measures are a start but special educators, especially those working with students
who have low-incidence disabilities, must also learn about their students’ health
needs, family dynamics, emotional, and mental health. Collaboration is essential for
creating challenging instruction for these students.
During my student teaching experience, I worked with parents, past and
current teachers, paraprofessionals, speech-language pathologists, school
counselors, and other staff to learn about the students I was in charge of creating
instruction for. I could not have created challenging instruction without input from
For example, I worked with a bright Sophomore named Samuel (name has
been changed) to create challenging material that would engage his interest in
animal science. Samuel is served in Special Education as SLD and I had input and
cooperation from multiple individuals to figure out what he can do and what he
struggles with. First, I conducted a CBM with Samuel where he was asked to read
from a list of survival vocabulary. This task proved extremely difficult and he often
stopped to ask me questions such as, “Is that an “n” or a “u”?” Next, I looked at the
work he struggled with from his other classes. I discovered that in World
Civilizations and English, he had a hefty pile of unfinished work. All of the work
involved lengthy amounts of writing. I also observed Samuel in English class and
saw how difficult it was for him to copy from the board. Every time he had to look
up from his paper he became lost. After gathering this information, I created
instruction on animals that would draw on Samuel’s strengths. He watched videos
I always acted as his scribe which allowed him the freedom to pay attention to the material and
utilize his excellent memory for fact recall without becoming bogged down by
reading or writing.
The COACH interview process allowed me to reach out to parents in order to
gain their valuable insight. I worked closely with the parents of Dawson (name has been changed), a
junior in my student teaching placement. Through a COACH interview, I was able to develop
personalized instruction for this student. Having an in-depth discussion with Dawson’s parents
allowed me to discover a side of his personality that I had never seen before. During the interview, I
discovered that Dawson loves maps, especially Google Maps. After our interview, I made sure to
use maps to interest him in work in our Functional Skills classroom and make meaningful
connections between school and home activities.
I also discovered that Dawson’s parents were concerned about his perceived
lack of interest in using money. At the interview, we worked out a new plan to
encourage him to make purchases. In the past, they had tried to interest him in
spending by taking him to stores to make purchases with birthday money. These
open-ended shopping trips would result in the student losing interest and not
making a purchase. Instead, they agreed to try making him responsible for
purchasing a small amount of personal care needs, like soap and shampoo, that way
he could practice money skills with a set list of necessary items. This new goal
supported their desire to prepare Dawson for supported living outside of their
home after high school.
For me, working with students who have low-incidence disabilities is always
fascinating and intellectually rigorous. I love that the instructional needs of the
students necessitate a holistic approach on the part of the teacher. Every student is
always unique but working in Special Education gives me the opportunity to design
individualized instruction for all of the students in my class.