Allison White

Student Teaching Special Education

So, you are about to start student teaching special education! Congrats! Here is what you need to know to make the most out of your student teaching experience.

Special Education Can Look Different in Every School

Special Education philosophies and quality vary widely from school to school. You may be in a wonderful, positive, high quality inclusion setting. You may also be in a classroom that focuses more on “entertaining” children than on teaching them. I’ve had both experiences. Don’t get discouraged if you end up in a setting you aren’t crazy about — it doesn’t mean your career is doomed.

Get to Know Your Students

This is the best part of teaching. 🙂 Jump in and get to know your students. Learn what makes them “tick.” Learn what motivates them. If you have an idea for something that might work well with a particular kid, run it by your cooperating teacher and give it a shot! At the end of the day, seeing kids learn makes all the stress worthwhile. (And yes, there will be stress. Take care of yourself.)

Student Teaching Special Education
Source: Flickr user Ilmicrofono Oggiono

Ask Lots of Questions

You are student teaching! The point is to learn. If you don’t understand the reasoning behind a certain intervention, ask. If you want to observe an IEP meeting, ask. If you want to learn more about how your cooperating teacher gets parents involved, ask!

Take LOTS of Pictures

Depending on the requirements of your student teaching, you will need to do a variety of different sorts of lessons or interventions with your students. This varies a lot program to program, but for my Master’s practicum (which is similar to student teaching), I had to complete, document, and submit projects on assessments, interventions, challenging behaviors, curriculum, and math & literacy. In addition, I needed to complete extensive write-ups about the setting and target children.
For all of these, I needed to include a lot of photos and documentation. Stay on top of your notes, especially if you need to collect data each day. Take time every afternoon to update a log of what you did that day. Take lots of photos of any interventions, centers, or lessons you were involved with as you go, but make sure to maintain confidentiality and get a signed release from a guardian.

Student teaching special education -magoosh
Source: Flickr user Zorah Olivia

You Get Out of it What You Put In To It

This is a wonderful time in your teaching career to try new things, learn a lot, and really get involved. The special education community is a small world, and it’s important to start your professional reputation out on the right foot. No one will fault you for not knowing, but they will fault you for not trying. Work hard and make the most of this time to learn all you can!


  • Allison White

    Allison is an Early Childhood Educator who has been a teacher since 2010. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2010 with a degree in Psychology, focused in Child Development. She began her teaching career as a 2nd grade teacher in Washington, D.C. After moving to Denver, Colorado she discovered a passion for Early Childhood Special Education. She earned a Master’s in the subject from University of Colorado Denver in 2015. She spent Spring 2016 teaching pre-service early childhood educators at the undergraduate level. Now she and her husband are on a big adventure travelling around the western United States in an RV!

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