In your career as a teacher, you will undoubtedly have the chance and pleasure to meet students with special educational needs (SEN) in your classroom. You may need to make changes in your teaching strategies to accommodate them. It will certainly be one of your greatest challenges as a qualified educator, but as you will discover, one of the most satisfying experiences.

What does SEN mean?

Schools often expect students to be naturally able to read, process, and then regurgitate information from a whiteboard as evidence that they have understood what is being taught.
This may not be the case for some SEN students and a lack of flexibility in this demand can lead them to experience a lot of anxiety and frustration.

These kids exhibit a significant disparity between academic achievement and intellectual capacity in one or more fields such as being able to express themselves well either orally or in writing, spelling, reading skills, listening comprehension and math skills whether it’s mathematical reasoning or difficulties calculating.

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, language learning disorders, issues with visual perception and auditory processing all fall under the umbrella term of learning disorders. Many kids with ADHD or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can have co-morbid learning disorders with symptoms of varying intensity.

Common indicators are:

  • Poor short term and long-term auditory memory
  • Low tolerance to frustration
  • The student is easily distracted, often gets side-tracked
  • Gets frustrated if he or she has to pay attention for extended periods of time
  • Difficulty controlling emotions and not interrupting the class
  • Becomes easily confused
  • Has difficulty following and remembering directions
  • May not work well in a group setting
  • Poor coordination
  • Black and white thinking that can be perceived as stubbornness
  • Poor handwriting
  • Difficulty keeping track of time


The educational systems of most developed countries aim to modify teaching methods and settings as to avoid separation and be able to cater to as many kids as possible in the general educational environment. Special education is viewed as a service, rather than a place as integration has been shown to reduce stigma and improve academic performance for most students.

Even if not all teachers receive training in how to handle special educational needs, most school provide counseling, training and the possibility to co-teach your class with special education teachers.

What Is a Special Education Teacher?

A special education teacher has to become certified either through a bachelor’s or master’s degree in education and special education or through some alternative special education licensing program. It depends what they have studied previously since many graduates of traditional teaching programs choose to continue their studies in this field. Typically, this means that they have studies subjects such as child assessment, educational psychology, communication techniques and behavior support.

Co-teaching implies pairing teachers in a classroom with the aim of sharing some of the responsibilities. It’s a practice often used with general and special education teachers in an effort to create a more inclusive learning environment.  

There are several ways in which the partnership is carried on during the lesson but most often the special education teacher will observe the classroom and asses which students are having difficulties and why, intervene to help them individually when needed, and based on observations can provide suggestion and strategies to modify the lesson plans as to
cater to the needs of all kids.

There are of course
some general instructions that can help you provide a more accommodating teaching environment.  

Keep the classroom organized and limit distractions

Students with special educational needs might need more flexibility in regards to teaching methods but they also need structure. If they know what to expect it can be a lot less stressful and distracting for them. It’s useful to have a few easy to understand classroom rules posted on the wall. Take regular breaks so the students don’t get overwhelmed and help them organize their desk and notebooks as to have an easier time finding everything they need to get their tasks completed with minimal interruption.

Make a clear schedule for your lessons

Many kids with special needs will start feeling overwhelmed easily and become anxious and difficult to handle. A clear, repetitive schedule can help them better cope with all the distractions and stressors that are part of their day. When they get frustrated, it will be calming for them to know how long a part of the lesson will take and what is coming next.

Break down instructions into smaller, manageable steps

Some of the students might have trouble understand a long chain of instructions, especially if they are given verbally. It would be better if for every task you ask your class to complete, you write down on the whiteboard the steps required to complete it. Make sure that you check back with them to see if they have understood all the steps necessary.

Integrate several senses into your explanations

A good way to make sure the information you’re trying to present is understood and retained by as many kids as possible is to present it both verbally, visually and through tasks that require them to manipulate teaching materials such as a physical model of the solar system.

Provide opportunities for social interaction

Students that perceive themselves as different from their peers will often start to get anxious and isolate themselves from the group. Make sure they have positive interactions with the rest of the classroom by giving them tasks such as distributing materials or handing out rewards. Instruct them on how to appropriately interact with the other kids while carrying on these assignments.

Reward accomplishments

Children with special educational needs often feel like they are not living up to what is expected of them. Make sure they know when they have done well in a task and praise them for their efforts.

When accommodating SEN students, the most important aspect is to communicate regularly and openly with not only the student, but also the parents, the other teachers and anyone else involved in their education. This way you can see what works and what doesn’t, how the student experiences the ways in which he is being provided for and what further changes need to be made to ensure the best academic outcome.  


Author's Bio: 

Cynthia Madison