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C.M. Corner: Special Education Interview with Tracy Burnham

Special Education can be very intimidating if you’ve never worked in that setting. It can still be a bit to grasp and feel comfortable in when you have worked in Special Ed classes. We had a chance to connect with a retired Special Ed teacher, Tracy Burnham, who worked at McGuire Middle School in Lakeville. She offered some really great insight into how to interact with various types of students and situations! She says that as a sub, build relationships with your students. Many students in Special Education have been picked on and excluded, so they often feel that no one likes them. Give them positive attention and give them genuine praise for their successes. Avoid giving them praise for trivial things that are well within their grasp of ability or giving praise while treating them like small children. Interact with each student at their age level and like you would any other student. Further, avoid singling any particular student or the group of students out. For example, say “I need everybody from Mr. Johnson’s class to come with me” rather than “I need the special ed students to come with me”. If you have a student trying to be a “tough guy”, roll with it and use appropriate humor! They are trying to show off. Don’t take it personally. Brush it off and keep moving. With all students, avoid coming off as confrontational. Ask them if they need to talk and let them know you’re on their side. Because of the situations they may have experienced, they may become defensive more easily. So if there is something that you need to address, deal with it privately. Further, let them know it’s not personal, but it’s the rules that we need to follow. Don’t cave into the student’s demands; you do need to uphold the school/classroom policies and procedure, but be fair. If there is a meltdown, REMAIN CALM! Don’t escalate the situation further. Try to ask questions in order to find out the reason for the meltdown. If the student isn’t calming down, you are escalating the situation or it is more than you are able to manage, get help, whether the other classroom staff, contacting the office or other school support staff. When working in Autistic rooms, get to the assignment quickly! Lastly, utilize the other classroom staff. They are a great resource if you have questions about what triggers students may have or typical procedures or student expectations! We truly appreciate this insight into the Special Education classroom! If you would like any additional training regarding Special Education classrooms, you can take one of our Non-violent Crisis Intervention or Special Education Workshop trainings, or any number of online trainings. If you have any questions or would like direction towards these trainings, please email us at training@teachersoncall.com.