Advice For the Overwhelmed Special Education Teacher

How to Find Joy in Your Craft, from One Special Education Teacher to Another

As a special education teacher, you are an important presence in the lives of all the children you serve: your students will face challenges that may often feel insurmountable, and their lives will follow a winding, and, at times, uncertain path. As their educator, you are a grounding force, a crucial supporter, and your room is a safe haven for growth, learning, and fun.

So, what do you do if you are completely overwhelmed?

First, remember that this is normal. When you play such an important role in the lives of so many students, it’s understandable that you would start to feel the pressure. Then, seek out support. We happen to believe that teachers find the best support from their peers, so we’ve gathered advice from three special education teachers in the Art of Teaching Project to help you through tough times, and inspire you to feel confident in your work.

Here are just a few pieces of the advice they have to share:

#1: Treat Each Day as a New Day

Special education teacher Karla Banks suggests that you treat each day as a new day — both for your sake and for your students. She says:

“You have to treat each day as a new day. I know how hard this is when you watch a student have an epic meltdown, which involves throwing and breaking everything they can reach. It’s only human nature to become upset. You can hold your students accountable for their behavior, but all consequences need to occur as soon as possible. This means the student cleans up the mess they made and apologizes to classmates. It does not mean that when the student arrives the next day, you say, “I hope we don’t have another problem like we did yesterday. I’m really tired to watching you throw a fit.” By allowing students a fresh start each day, you are allowing them to learn from their mistakes and an opportunity to make better choices.Think about how you would feel walking into a group of people who watched you totally lose it. How would you want them to treat you? You would want to be treated with grace and forgiveness, not bitterness and anger.”

#2: Be a Team Player

Maybe the support system you need to keep from feeling overwhelmed is inside your own school. Karen Achtman, a special education teacher with a passion for promoting inclusivity, believes being a team player can go a long way:

“It truly takes a group of teachers and therapists to support all aspects of a child. I’m fortunate to have a social worker, speech-­language pathologist, occupational therapist, and behavior analyst in addition to paraprofessionals to support my students. Each person brings a unique perspective to the conversation. Together, you can make a difference. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice or a question. Since each person has a different background, she may notice something different or have a new strategy to try. Collaboration is worth the time to help your classroom run more smoothly.”

#3: Build Relationships

Theresa Amoriello, special education teacher, is all about relationship building in her classroom. Forging relationships with your students not only helps them flourish - it also creates a stable, positive environment that allows you to stay relaxed. She says:

“The key to figuring out what makes a child tick can be a key to helping them gain the confidence and the abilities to master important lessons. Forming relationships with these students, ensuring that they are safe and cared for, and talking to them is what enables us to build that trust with them. While this should be done with every student, it becomes more apparent with those who have special needs. Finding out why that one student is always calling out or acting out no matter how many warnings you give, can give clarity into how you can better support their learning. On that same token, building a relationship with the quiet, shy student can give them the confidence they need thrive.”

To read each of these educator’s blogs in full, check them out below. If you have advice for your peers to become better, more confident, and happier special education teachers, leave it in the comments!