• Trish Dotts

Gen Ed teacher tired of Special Ed?


Have you ever been frustrated when the disruptive or students with learning disabilities seem to ruin your lesson?


Teachers are weird. We love to plan the ‘just right’ lessons. This means we love getting students to LOVE what we love. Or at least LEARN the content we love.


Over the years we have figured out what lessons and assignments need to be taught for our students to perform their best on some engaging final project or to give us meaningful data from a big test.


It is important to make our lessons ‘just right’ in difficulty, so that the information we present is slowed down as it goes through the student’s brains. The information needs to connect to ideas that are already planted. Learners must process or ‘chew’ on content for it to stay in the brain.


We actually get excited when we have improved a lesson to reach the greatest number of students. In our minds we see some student’s return to visit us just to say, “I do not remember anything from school, except that one thing we did in your class.” or “I use that all of the time!”


Our lessons reach as many students as possible. We can not address every student’s interest or modify to reach the 25 different levels of difficulty, learning styles or psychological need. At public school, we teach every. single. type. of person. So, in any lesson there is a chunk of students who can not quite get it. This is the most frustrating part of a lesson. We score an assignment, and some students just do not reach the bar.


Some of those students have an individualized learning plan called an IEP, developed by a teacher who specializes in learning differences or disabilities along with the student’s family. The IEP offers accommodations or ways to modify a lesson/assignment so the protected child has equal access to learning and showing teachers that learning has occurred.


So a teacher who has developed this great lesson that has ‘worked’ on all of these different students, may have to adjust the lesson for this one student.



As a result, some teachers say things like:

“I do not teach Special Ed.”

“That child should be in a different class.”

“This class is for students who aren’t in Special Ed.”

“We have a “basic’ level of this class which would be a better fit.”

“I have done this lesson for years, I am not going to change it.”

“No one has trained me in how to address this.” No one has trained me in the technology you are asking me to use.”

“I am getting this child prepared for life. Life has high expectations, so do I.”

(Many teachers think this, SOME actually let the thoughts fall out of their head and put them into audible words.)


I understand the feeling, I do not like when anyone harshes my groove. I am a good teacher, and I have done this lesson for years, my professional opinion is that this is a good lesson. I do not need to change it.


When we resist providing the student’s federally protected right to accommodations and modifications, we are teaching them to never ask.


When the adult ignores the IEP, the child feels ashamed. They feel ashamed that they need these adjustments, they believe that are not working hard enough to ‘get it’. Or they think that the teacher does not like them. None of those feelings inspire further effort. None of those feelings encourage students to advocate for themselves.



Instead of resisting folding these adjustments into our amazing lessons, let’s truly prepare these students for life. Let’s come alongside the student to figure out what adjustments would be helpful for the student to LOVE our lesson.


When we take on the role of being the MASTERS of our content, so masterful that we can teach a reluctant learner or student with a disability to be successful, then we are doing our job.

Let’s teach those kids how to access OUR content for their future. WE hold the knowledge.


I only have one hand. I have been playing the bass guitar. I figured some things out on my own, but my guitar teacher is a MASTER of the instrument. He has been teaching the lessons to all kinds of people over the years. He has broken down the lessons into just right chunks. He has all of the different types of music ready to interest the student.

The MASTERS know exactly what steps can be skipped, and what are the essential components. What tools I can use to make the sound just right.


Maybe technically, I should be strumming up and down with my rhythm hand, but I can not technically do that. Does that mean that I should not play the guitar? Is it a lowering of a standard or expectation to accept that I do not ‘technically’ play it right ? Does it still sound pretty great? Yes! Do I still have a lot to learn? YES! Do I feel empowered to keep trying? YES!


What would have happened if I were told that

“I should just find a one-handed instrument to play?”

“The standard is to strum both up and down, so I can not give you a full score because you can only strum down.”

“No one has trained me to teach people who are different from me.”



When I was a kid, I was told, “You have to be TWICE as good to be JUST as good.” To be honest, it’s pretty true. You know it too. You know that those students need to try really hard in order to be successful. You are a master of your content, what tools do those students need in order to make the learning just a little easier? What are you doing to help them? What are you doing to empower them to ask for help from future teachers and employers?


I also wonder, what are your thoughts or resistance to the ideas presented? I’d like to sort through those ideas myself. Also, what training do we need in order to feel supported by our leadership so we CAN support these students.


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