For Special Needs Students, Focus on SEL Critical

Social-emotional interventions are especially key to academic success, experts say.

It is widely accepted that there is a teacher shortage in the United States, but when it comes to special education teachers, the situation is even more dire. According to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages on Special Education and Related Resources, between 82% and 99% of special education teachers are not ideally qualified to serve in this capacity. Not only that, but the attrition rate for these educators is twice that of general education teachers.And as special education students are increasingly put into general education classes, the preparedness gap of teachers becomes even wider.

“Since most models of special education focus on pairing a special education teacher and a general education teacher in the same classroom to support student learning, the more exposure that special and general educators have to [social emotional learning] tenets, the more effective they are in supporting student needs,” said David Adams, director of social-emotional learning at Urban Assembly.

Sharrone Brawner, a cultural specialist at Sela Public Charter School in Washington, DC, said, “Special education students challenge teachers to modify lessons, and their thinking, when teaching core subjects.”

“Often people think of special education students as always having to be remediated, and lessons having to be broken down into additional steps in order for the child to learn,” she said. “People often forget about the special education student that is higher than all of the other students in the class, and might act out out of boredom rather than frustration.”

In her experience, Brawner said teachers are often equipped with general tool kits to help address the needs of these students, but just like with any student population, the needs of special needs students can vary greatly.

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