Special Ed Confidential: What Students Really Want Their Teachers to Know

By Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., ABPP, FAASP, and Denise M. Campbell, M.S., SLP, SDA, coauthors of The Survival Guide for Kids in Special Education (And Their Parents)

Special Ed Confidential: What Students Really Want Their Teachers to KnowThere is no one description of children who have learning disabilities or learning challenges. They are as different as children who do not have these difficulties. However, over the years, many of these children have confided their thoughts about their academic struggles, and their dreams, wishes, and goals with us.

When students receive special education services, they often want their general education teachers to:

  1. “Remember that I belong in her class and not do something new when I’m not there or play a fun game that I’ll miss.”
  2. “Know that I’m trying hard but sometimes need some changes to my work so that I can show what I know.”
  3. “Talk with my resource room teacher so that they both give me work that I can do.”

Some of the most common wishes that students have, whether they are in elementary school or high school, are for their teachers and parents to remember that they have potential, that they have areas of strength, and that they are special in a positive way, not just in a way that requires assistance or remediation. Many of these students also want reminders, for when they forget, that they have options in their future to lead productive, independent lives.

Students typically appreciate when their general education and special education teachers work together to present lessons and create assignments that are tailored to their specific learning styles and needs. When learning disabled children are given an assignment or a test in a format in which they can highlight their strengths and show that they understand the lesson, they feel more capable and confident.

“I like it when my teacher gives me a word bank. I know the answers but can’t always remember the words.”
—Sophie

“I know my teachers have to help me learn to read and write. But when I was doing a social studies project, I was so happy when my teachers decided to let me do a video where some of my friends acted like historical figures and I narrated the whole thing. I learned a lot of information, and the best part was that I was able to show my teachers what I knew by doing an assignment like this!”
—Micah

In general, students have had positive reactions when they are presented with modified assignments or tests that enable them to more fully share their knowledge. However, some students are self-conscious about tests or papers that look “different” from those of their friends and other classmates. In this case, students and teachers should have a private discussion about how best to handle this dilemma. Many students prefer to take a test that looks different in a different location. Some students just need quick, prepared comments to say if another student questions them about their modified work or test.

Overall, students have told us that they want teachers to:

  1. Remember and remind them that they have areas of ability.
  2. Give them work that they can understand and do.
  3. Avoid calling on them in class if it’s a topic that is hard for them. (They don’t want to be embarrassed.)
  4. Highlight their work when it is done well.
  5. Coordinate work and homework with the special education teacher.
  6. Avoid calling attention to the fact that they have to leave for resource room or other services.
  7. Offer them extra help and not only depend on the special education teacher to help students understand the material covered in class.

Children with special needs want to have the same academic experiences as all children. They want to learn, be able to understand lessons, and be able to show their knowledge in a way that is best for their learning profile. Children who feel cared about by all their teachers, who feel respected, and who know that teachers are aware of their strengths and challenges are better able to engage in the learning process. They’re more likely to feel confident that they can do the classwork or the modified work (when needed) in a way that can make them feel pride in their accomplishments.

Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., ABPP, FAASP, is a clinical and school psychologist who has worked with children and adults in private practice, school, clinic, and hospital settings. She has written several books to support teachers and children including Children Don’t Come With an Instruction Manual: A Teacher’s Guide to Problems That Affect Learners and Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem. She is the coauthor of School Made Easier: A Kid’s Guide to Study Strategies and Anxiety-Busting Tools.

Denise M. Campbell, M.S., SLP, SDA, has enjoyed a dynamic career as a speech pathologist and later as a school district administrator. Over the years, she has conducted evaluations and provided instructional services to hundreds of children and developed positive relationships with families. She has worked with children affected by a myriad of disabilities. She is the proud parent of five wonderful children, and in her spare time she enjoys reading, cooking, and camping. She lives in the New York City area.

The Survival Guide for Kids in Special EducationWendy and Denise are coauthors of The Survival Guide for Kids in Special Education (And Their Parents): Understanding What Special Ed Is & How It Can Help You.


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