This week, I want to tip my cap to some unsung heroes in education; special education teachers. I have a soft spot in my heart for the men and women who choose this extremely challenging branch of the teaching profession. I don't think enough people really appreciate how much is put on these people's plates.

Let me start by saying that I could not do what special education teachers do. I've often said that special education teachers deserve more money than general education teachers. I really mean that. Sure, SPED teachers don't teach as many classes as a general education teacher does but, frankly, teaching classes is the easy and enjoyable part of teaching. It's all the other stuff that makes teaching a hard job. SPED teachers' days are filled with the "other stuff."

In this day and age, schools are becoming overwhelmed with the number of kids who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), behavior plans, etc. In the school where I teach, our SPED teachers have a caseload of from 30 to nearly 40 students each, for which they are the teacher of record. That means they have to write each of those lengthy IEP documents and help to ensure that each one is being followed by each of those students' teachers. That requires them to keep close tabs on all their students' classes and make sure all the teachers are on the same page with each kid.

They must maintain closer contact with each of their kids' parents or guardians than general education teachers do. They monitor each assignment, help each student keep track of what they need to do, communicate that with parents and help teachers modify the work to the needs and abilities of each student. They must organize and conduct case conferences for each of the students each year. That doesn't even take into account the many other meetings they conduct with their students' families throughout the year.

Many of the SPED teachers deal with students with emotional disabilities. Such teachers, especially those who have students with severe disabilities who spend much of their time in self-contained classrooms with these teachers, are almost daily subjected to verbal abuse by the students in their care. Sometimes that turns to physical abuse. This requires them to receive special training to know how to calm such students down and, if necessary, safely physically restrain the students so they can't hurt others or themselves. They also often have to chase down students who try to run from the building.

These teachers must always carry a walkie-talkie so that they can contact administration or security whenever they need to. Imagine going through this day in and day out while earning the same wage as the general education teachers whose days are usually quite calm by comparison.

If you know a special education teacher, or someone who works as a special education aide, give them a hug and tell them you appreciate them.

Alexandria native Shane Phipps is an author and teacher in Indianapolis. Email him at Follow his blog at and follow him on Twitter @shanehphipps.

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