After experiencing the joy and challenges of teaching in the general education classroom, some teachers find themselves drawn to serving students with special needs. Students with cognitive and behavioral disabilities need highly trained and committed educators to both teach and advocate for them. These students can benefit not only from extra help at school but also from teachers who show Jesus’s compassion. In addition, students who function at grade level have the promise of becoming champions for the disabled and disenfranchised as teachers model inclusion and acceptance for exceptional children.
Teach Those Who Are “Different”
The concepts of normal and average are being challenged by educators who value the unique qualities of students. Although curriculum developers, politicians and administrators use mathematics and statistics to find the center of children’s abilities and behaviors, in general, there is little evidence that many, if any, people fit the parameters considered average.
Some teachers feel called to work with students who are functioning at an academic level lower than what is considered normal or average. However, these teachers do not look at their students as being different. They see their students as pastor and author David W. Anderson does: “People do not deviate from normal; difference is normal.”
Teach Like Jesus Taught
The Bible speaks of every person being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that each person was made with intent (Jeremiah 1:5), and that that each person was created for a special plan (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Teachers with a heart to teach students with special needs see their students from the same viewpoint.
When teachers feel called to serve through teaching special education students, they are, in fact, following the path Jesus took. He understood that people learned differently and approached both disciples and strangers in ways that would appeal to their personalities and learning styles. In her master’s thesis, Melissa Louise Stymeist describes how Jesus met people’s needs:
[Jesus] touched and washed feet and let Thomas touch his side. He spent more time with some than others … The fact is that the master teacher, Jesus … pulled people away from a group to teach them differently than everyone else, meeting the individual special needs of His students.
These special education teachers also serve as leaders as they answer the call to educate those with learning disabilities. Professor of special education Dr. Nilsa J. Thorsos stated, “These Christian special education teachers are also agents of change and serve as catalysis at their school sites as they collaborate and teach other colleagues the value of including all students in the educational process.”
Teach Compassion for Those With Disabilities
Besides serving as teacher and advocate for special education students, many teachers take on the responsibility of enlightening all students about the importance of understanding and inclusion. According to Deborah Elbaum, M.D., it is critical that students in every classroom are taught about the different types of disabilities. She details several issues worthy of note and discussion. For example:
- Everybody is different and some differences are easy to spot.
- Children with disabilities want the same things that all children want.
- Anyone can become disabled at any time — when they are born, if they have an accident or an illness, or as they grow old.
It is up to the teacher to help facilitate healthy relationships between and among students with and without disabilities. David Anderson maintains that “Able-bodied students may hesitate to build a relationship with classmates with unconventional minds or bodies, particularly if sensing skepticism or discomfort on the part of a teacher who merely tolerates their presence because of legal mandates.”
Earning a Master of Education in Special Education with a Christian worldview from Mississippi College will prepare you to serve the high calling of teaching students with special needs. You will be equipped to help students achieve their potential because you have high expectations of them and realize how much they can contribute to society. As Dr. Thorsos stated, “Christian special education teachers need to recognize their true calling as one of hope and compassion.”
Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Special Education program.
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