Special education is an often overlooked and under-appreciated element of the larger education sector. Often, people correlate an education degree with grade school, high school or college teaching and administration. But there are a number of other equally important areas of teaching and education, like special education, that give service-minded individuals an opportunity to make a positive and lasting difference in students’ lives.
J.T. Watts is one teacher who chose a career in special education. In his 41 years teaching special education, Watts helped children with varying learning disabilities and, he says, they helped him too. Many of the students Watt’s taught had dyslexia, a disability that causes people to reverse both words and letters.
Dyslexia is only one example of a learning disability. Special education teachers often help students with disorders that affect intake, processing, comprehension and retaining of information. Watts’ approach was to help increase his students self-esteem by teaching them methods of overcoming their confusion with words and letters. Watts implemented a strict memorization regimen of multiplication tables and state capitals. His students become so efficient that they were eventually able to compete with their teacher. Says Watts, “I did get beat one time on state capitals. I made a careless mistake and the students didn’t miss any. He never let me forget about it, either.”
Special educators, like Watts, employ a number of different methods when teaching special education students. Modifying the curriculum to best fit a student’s personal learning needs is a popular and successful tactic. When asked about the perks of his job, Watts replied, “I think it is the most difficult and stressful job in education. In the special education field, the teacher turnover is really high. But it is very fulfilling. It’s just worth it to see them progress. When the lights turn on, you can see it in their eyes when they start believing in themselves and say ‘Hey, I can do this. I’m OK.'”
We recently published an article concerning the U.S.D.E.’s newest special education initiative, a $ 19.9 million grant to fund training of special education teachers, like J.T. Watts. Read about the U.S.D.E. funding here