Special needs is a very broad term. So before we can start to identify which of our students have special needs, we need to first identify some of what the term entails.
Usually, the term would refer to a student who has a disability like blindness, deafness or who suffers from a specific mental disability. But the term should be used a lot broader than it is being used at the moment.
Description of a teacher who teaches special needs students:
Every teacher in the world
Now you may say that this is not true. I agree that there are teachers who specialize in this field and who are trained to specifically deal with students with very obvious special needs. These teachers do an incredible job. But if you look at the description of a student with special needs, you will understand that the need for special needs educators are so high that it is impossible to limit it to the handful there currently are.
Description of a student with special needs:
Any student who is unable to learn and succeed at the same level as the majority of other mainstream learners.
Now there may be many different reasons as to why a student is not able to perform at the same level as his/her peers. Some of the most obvious ones are of course the physical and clear mental disabilities some students suffer from.
In a class where mathematics is being explained in the old chalk-and-talk style, it is obvious that a blind learner will have trouble following along with the rest of his classmates. Everybody also accepts that a learner with Down’s Syndrome will have more difficulty absorbing information than the learner with no form of mental disability.
But a lot of the time the disability of a student with special needs is not so obvious. When Jack misbehaves in class to the extent that he disrupts the learning process and makes life miserable for his teacher and fellow students, we want to send him to a doctor for a prescription so he can calm down in class and be able to learn.
In many cases, this is the way to go. But there is always the other side of the coin and these students can generally be divided into two main groups. We have a quiet, obedient student who makes teaching a pleasure because he never gives you any trouble in class.
But when it comes to exams, he fails miserably and without any clear reason. Then there is the student who terrorizes teachers, students and sometimes even parents alike. It is so easy to identify this as a case of ADHD but we have learned that it is not always the case. Many times children in the class will act out because of frustration; frustration in their own inability to manage the work expected of them.
There are schools where the majority of students do pretty well and these seem like model schools. On the other hand, we find the schools with students who, on average, do not do so well at all. If we look at this on a worldwide basis, it is easy to see that the performance of students have a lot to do with the economic stability of the area the students of the school come from.
As a teacher, you have to look at each student as a whole. You can never separate the child in education from the child and his circumstances and conditions outside the schoolyard. Many times it is exactly these circumstances that make for a student with special needs.
Adapting our style of education and assessment to suit the abilities and learning style of the student will make for a unique style of special needs education to suit every learner in every school, allowing them the opportunity to perform at the top of their own ability.