Are your eyebrows raised? Mine were. I heard this during my first year of teaching in a school where many students had significant gaps in their learning. Some of these learning gaps were due to behaviour and motivational issues but many of the learning gaps stemmed from learning disabilities, intellectual deficits and ADD/ADHD. In order to help all the students in the general classroom, special needs or not, to reach their full educational potential, there was a focus on increasing reading skills throughout all areas of the curriculum using strategies seen to have worked in the special education classroom. Some of the teaching strategies included
teaching needed vocabulary before presenting the passage
having hi-interest/low reading level materials
smaller groupings of students during Language Arts periods
employing a variety of strategies to check for understanding (orally, through drama or music etc.)
Many teachers are reading this and thinking this is no different from what we do in the everyday classroom. These aren't special education teaching strategies! These are just regular old teaching strategies. I totally agree. The special education teachers of the school were not necessarily better teachers than teachers in the general classroom. Rather, many of the suggested teaching strategies used effectively to increase reading skills were used more frequently and explicitly in the special education classroom.
This brings up 2 points of interest for me.
1) All teachers are special education teachers. Many teachers shy away from exclusively teaching groups of special needs students. Others see the special needs codes on their class lists in September and are intimidated. Feelings of inadequacy may surface. I'm here to tell you something. You already are a great special education teacher. Each child in your classroom is already receiving a special education from you. In your classroom, you already employ the teaching strategies used in a special education classroom. It's true a special needs student may need more attention in order to find just the right teaching strategy but it's likely you already have the needed teaching strategy in your bag of tricks or you are more than willing to learn it!
2) Special needs students are really just students. Sometimes the label of "special needs" limits us as teachers because we think we have to teach differently. In part this is true. But I want to challenge you to think of your special needs students as just students. Regardless of a label or not, your students require you to employ a variety of strategies, taught frequently and explicitly, to reach them.
So special educaton teachers may not be the best teachers. They are teachers, like many teachers in the general education classroom, who have learned to teach and check for understanding using a plethora of methods depending on the abilities and needs of their students.