Educator Paulette Chaffee

Teachers want to ensure all students succeed in the classroom, so knowing how to work effectively with all students is critical. When a teacher has a disabled student in their class, not being aware of the correct teaching strategies or best approaches for helping educate that student can lead to a lack of adequate accommodations. Here, experienced educator, Paulette Chaffee goes over six ways teachers can better prepare and support the disabled students they teach.

1. Get to know students’ IEPs

Students with special needs have an individual education plan (IEP) or a written legal document that maps out the program of special education instruction, services, and necessary support that promote that student’s success in the school setting. IEPs are written by a case manager and created in team meetings that teachers can attend. Teachers can support their disabled students by first reading through their IEP. Each student’s learning needs are unique; however, learning needs can overlap if a teacher has more than one disabled student in the class with similar needs. Finding overlaps assist with saving time when differentiating instruction.

2. Collaborate

A teacher can get to know a student’s case manager by asking for access to the IEP, which is essential when using a collaborative team to best support a student with disabilities. Collaborating with a student’s network when learning the best way to support that student is an effective strategy for teachers. Asking for a student’s IEP opens the door to starting a conversation with the student’s case manager. In addition, any parents, therapists, or other teachers in that child’s life will also be a part of the support network that teachers can build relationships with to discuss the best methods of individual support.

3. Communicate a positive outlook

The challenges that disabled students face add weight to their day-to-day lives. Rather than adding to that weight, teachers should strive to be that student’s champion and maintain a positive outlook with every interaction. On particularly challenging days, students can see their progress more clearly when a teacher serves as a cheerleader for every small success. Teachers that embrace a consistently positive outlook also give students with disabilities a platform to find growth in life no matter the day.

4. Normalize

The reality for many students with disabilities is different than an average student. Additional services such as physical and occupational therapy might be a necessary part of life for a student that involves being pulled away from class time. No matter the schedule, teachers should make sure to normalize the experience for a student as fully as possible. Focusing on students’ unique attributes is an excellent way for teachers to emphasize and promote acceptance and avoid students being marginalized at school by other parties.

5. Get Creative

The abrupt need for online learning during the pandemic further proved the importance of remaining creative in teaching approaches to meet the learning needs of all students. With flexibility and creativity, teachers can adapt and alter instruction and tasks during the school year to accommodate a student’s learning needs.

6. Think Simple

Teachers need to remember that baby steps are significant steps when supporting disabled students. A baseline approach to communicating tasks is to think simple. Assignments should be broken down into small, manageable, digestible steps.

About Paulette Chaffee

Paulette Chaffee is a teacher, speech therapist, and attorney deeply involved in the Fullerton community. As an educator and member of various non-profit boards, her focus has always been on providing children with the highest quality education. Ms. Chaffee holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands, a California Lifetime Teaching Credential, and is admitted to the California Bar.