The decision to move from teaching in the general education classroom to teaching students with special needs involves not only additional coursework but also a significant change in approach to the concepts and beliefs about disabilities and education. While working with exceptional children, Christian teachers find themselves in a unique position of having a meaningful career and taking up an important ministry.
Personal Perspectives About Disabilities
There is no question that no two students are alike. It is also true that most academic subjects are driven, in large measure, by facts. No matter what your heritage or ability, two plus two equals four, and George Washington was the first elected President of the United States. As a special education teacher, however, you will encounter an additional element involved in the education of your students. According to special education professor and author David W. Anderson, “In contrast to mathematics or history, the ‘content’ is not [only] facts, but the individuals who are affected by disability.”
The training necessary to become a special education teacher includes coursework in student characteristics, individualized programming, planning, and instruction, testing procedures and the psychology of exceptional children. For the teacher with a Christian worldview, however, the preparation process includes additional reflection and discussion. As a potential special education teacher, you must determine your perspective of disabilities.
Worldview of Disabilities
Over the last century, as the focus all over the world changed from agriculture to manufacturing and more complex scientific theories, more emphasis was placed on physical and mental abilities. During this time, students whose progress lagged behind those of a majority of their peers were increasingly seen as dependent and less able to make meaningful contributions to society. Per the ancient practice of treating those with chronic illnesses and disabilities as hopelessly affected by sin, these children were seen as being deficient and unable to fully participate in school.
But the Christian worldview sees the abilities and disabilities of every human as part of God’s creation. The special education teacher sees students as individuals whose lives have purpose and meaning.
Special Education As a Calling
For many Christians, teaching students with special needs is not just an important job — it is a calling and ministry. The time, effort and patience required to prepare and teach are less about job expectations and more about acts of stewardship. In addition, Anderson believes that special education teachers with a Christian worldview are less likely to be overwhelmed and burn out than teachers who work without that basis of faith.
Christians also approach the legalities of special education differently. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, mandates a Free and Appropriate Education for all students. But the incentive for a Christian educator to provide quality services to their students is based on biblical principles, not just what the law requires.
Agents of Change
Christians who teach children with special needs are called not only to teach but also to create a better world for their students. According to Dr. Nilsa J. Thorsos, Professor and Program Lead at National University Department of Special Education, “It is essential for Christian special education teachers to understand what their true mission is about. As agents of change, they must value and empower their students the way Jesus modeled in the New Testament.” These teachers are in a position to help students flourish by not focusing on their disabilities, but instead identifying their self-worth and their God-given gifts and strengths.
Christians believe that they are being continuously transformed into the likeness of Christ. Although never achieved, it is always the goal. Because of these changes, Christians can and should speak change into the lives of others. Therefore, Christian teachers have the added responsibility to foster change in the profession and other professionals. They must encourage teachers of any denomination or faith to view their roles in the educational system as vision-casters for those who society pities or looks down on. Anderson says, “Their vision must be transformed from focusing only on self and career goals to their role in the world as salt and light.”
Pastor and teacher David Bentley wrote, “As believers, we are commanded to uphold the laws that govern our communities in addition to following the mandates of the Lord Jesus. As a result, we ought not to see this as an opportunity to lessen our responsibility, but rather a challenge to be a model that raises what we offer to a position of excellence.”
Agents of Hope
Special education teachers have an additional opportunity, as daily service providers, to empower and educate their students about their potential. Dr. Thorsos writes, “Christian special education teachers must … instill in the students that they are not helpless, but have funds of knowledge. As a result of hard work, they too can make contributions to our society.”
Because of their hope in the power of God, Christian special educators can ensure the academic and social success of students with exceptionalities. These teachers hold their students to high standards with the confidence that, with the proper support and preparation, they can live full and industrious lives.
Preparing to Teach Students With Special Needs
As part of the special education teacher development process, teacher candidates have the opportunity and obligation to examine their own Christian journey. In addition, these graduate students must discover their own perceptions of students with disabilities.
The Master of Education in Special Education program at Mississippi College is designed to prepare and empower teachers as agents of change in today’s classroom. As a faith-based program it “encourages educators to be an academic and spiritual advocate for their students with disabilities.” Through coursework that includes Biblically driven discussion, reflection and journaling, students understand how their beliefs will directly connect to and affect their work as special education teachers.
Throughout the New Testament, people brought their lame, sick and disabled to Jesus. Other teachers, as well as their own students, should feel drawn to teachers of special needs because of their compassion. They must continue to grow closer to God and find hope and strength in His Word. As John Perkins stated in his book, Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development, “God’s call to service for my life cannot be separated from God’s intention to work in my life”.
Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Special Education program.