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What I Love Most About Teaching Adolescents Who
Receive Special Education Services

By Mimi Rosenberg

Before I became a teacher educator, I was a junior high school and high school special education teacher with the New York City Board of Education. It was in the mid-1970's, a new and incredibly hopeful era for special education. The federal law, PL 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act (precursor to IDEA), had just been passed. We special education teachers felt like we were truly breaking new ground with our IEPs (handwritten!!), legal provisions for of due process (at least on paper!), and bilingual evaluations of students who were English as a New Language Learners ENLs (mandated by law!). The advocacy work we did as teachers to involve the students and their families in their newfound rights was thrilling. Some of the most satisfying work, always, for me, was the day to day connecting with the kids. In this blog, I share with you what it is that I most love about teaching adolescents in special education. I hope that it will help to inspire you to also want to work with this wonderful population of learners!!

  1. I love supporting their sense of themselves as learners...they often do not see themselves as smart or capable of big ideas, but I never met a kid who wasn’t.

  2. I love building on what they most want to know...they frequently undervalue what their interests are and miss so many opportunities to pursue them because they (and sometimes others) squelch their natural and genuine curiosities and fascinations.

  3. I love helping them find new areas of interest, even when they start out thinking that there is “no way” that a particular subject, book, or class could be interesting, let alone worthwhile.

  4. I love finding ways to talk through small steps they can take to problem solve because they so often feel that their difficulties are insurmountable and therefore can’t see how to break them down into manageable and incremental parts.

  5. I love giving them unconditional faith in their goodness at the core because so many of them have lost a sense of where that goodness went, especially given the amount of trouble that they often encounter in daily life at school and often outside of school too.

  6. I love creating metaphors and other images that will assist them in making sense of how they learn, because often they have no idea about their learning styles, strengths and challenges and what will make learning easier and more satisfying for them.

  7. I love developing a repertoire of strategies with them to build self-efficacy and self-advocacy because all too often they lost their sense of agency long ago in light of all of the school failure that they have faced.

  8. I love appreciating their sense of humor because life is tougher without it and adolescents are very, very funny.

  9. I love really putting myself in the role of learner with them so that they can experience the beauty of teaching someone what you know.

  10. I love finding a way for them to trust at being in a relationship with a teacher who believes in them.