An Unhelpful Guide for Special Ed Teachers

That’s Special: A Survival Guide to Teaching 
By Dan Henderson
(Outskirts Press, 2015 – Learn more)

vonstaden3Reviewed by Laura Von Staden

Dan Henderson’s stories are apparently from an elementary self-contained Emotional/Behavioral disability class setting. While I have taught at the middle grades level, I too have had self-contained behavioral classes with students similar to the ones described in the text, only mine have been adolescents.

I did not find Mr. Henderson’s stories either funny or encouraging in terms of helping teachers, even Special Education Teachers, in facing some of the challenges they will be presented with as they work with these students. And I hardly find this to be a survival guide for teaching.

that's special v stadenI was also somewhat offended by his statement on page ii that “Teachers choose to be educators to give back to the community, to be mentors, and let’s be honest, to enjoy the summer vacations.” Personally, I work hard in the summers, with no pay, to be a better teacher the following school year. Many other teachers do as well.

He makes similar statements, such as “When I saw my students doing something strange, I would think, That’s special, as a cue to not take my job too seriously” (page ii). At the same time, he also acknowledges that “As a special education teacher, my job is to discover how to teach those labeled as ‘unteachable’” (page iii) and “Our society desperately needs more involved and fearless mentors” (page iii).

A few positives

Henderson’s list of tools does include some good choices. He focuses first on the significant behavior of a particular student, and then the tool as a response or intervention to the situation. Some of the tools are well connected, and he discusses how a change in his teaching resulted in improvements in a particular behavior and helped his class to run more smoothly. Other times I had a more difficult time seeing the connections.

Most of tools the author presents are the ones that are among the first things you learn as a pre-service teacher: conduct a student survey (build rapport, get to know your students), create a behavior management system, use routines, use positive reinforcement, differentiate your instruction to meet student needs, and make your lessons fun (engaging). Thus, I feel that while veteran teachers can relate to some of his stories, his tools are probably things these teachers have already mastered.

For teachers considering a career in Special Education, an area of critical need, I fear that readers may not finish this book feeling equipped or encouraged to teach this group of students and may decide not to enter the field, not wanting to have their own similar stories to tell.

I would skip this one.

Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Special Education Middle School Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and a master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.

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