Some years ago as a professor at Georgian Court University, I was involved in a faculty round table to discuss means by which our program could better prepare students for the classroom. Chief among our concerns was how classes were now including a growing number of special needs students. Teachers could be faced with learning disabilities ranging from mild ADD through children on the autism spectrum or even Down syndrome. As this trend was likely to accelerate, we all agreed more preparation was required.
As might be expected, school administrators now have an increased focus on hiring teachers capable of handling such special needs students. Over the past years, there has been a rising presence of questions dealing with special education on all interviews....and you need to be ready. If badly handled, these questions are quite capable of being deal-breakers; be careful not to underestimate their importance. Look at this sample question from a principal at an Ohio middle school. I chose this item because you might well see something like it on interviews at any grade level.
Q. As a seventh grade teacher, you will be working with a number of students who have special needs. It is vitally important such students be given every opportunity to learn and prosper in your class. Tell the committee the steps you will take to reach that goal.
This is very general question and allows you great latitude in your answer; however, there are several key elements you must include. Let's look at how you might approach this question. As with much of my earlier advice, answers become stronger when they are framed around broad themes and delivered in a one, two, three sequence. In this case you might break your response into three separate categories: 1) your work with the case manager and controlling documents, 2) your plans for the home, and 3) individual classroom actions. By dividing the response into sections, you show sound prior thought and make your answer more memorable. Now move on to how this might be accomplished.
The first and most essential element is your work with the case manager. Put the committee on notice that the guiding document for your work with every special needs student is the IEP. You will want a copy of this before the first class meets, and you will want to meet with the student's case manager to establish a great opening plan. In your discussion, speak to an ongoing cooperation with the special education department to both monitor each student's weekly progress, and what specific adjustments might be made to promote the best results.
In your second area, describe just how you plan to communicate with the parents and home. Speak directly to ways parents will be invited to work with you on behalf of their student. Outline times when parents might be invited into your class to participate in special events. If you will have a class website or homework hotline, underscore where this might be targeted to your special needs students. It is important to demonstrate how essential you see home participation to be in your class.
The last area of focus is specific teacher strategies you might employ. Tell the committee how everything will be based on individual circumstances, but you will have a wide range of teacher actions designed to accommodate individual student needs. Then list off a series of five or six strategies. These have to reflect your particular teaching stance; however, here are several you might consider: special test or quiz accommodations, learning centers, manipulatives, multi-means assessment, differentiated learning, diagnostic teaching, graphic organizers, student learning choices, word walls, and so forth. There are literally dozens of great ideas, and you will need to identify a solid five or six that fit your teaching style. The key is to quickly identify and give a short description of each. Be prepared for a follow-up question that asks for more detail on any specific item you provide.
Complete your answer by noting how every plan will need to be thoroughly targeted to the best ideas available for that student. Underscore how you will cooperatively develop and monitor the plan with the case manager. At the end of the day, you want every student to leave your class feeling like the day was worthwhile and that you genuinely cared about his or her success.
A final thought is this question needs to be pre-designed. There is better than a 50% chance you will see this topic during your interview. Most candidates will not have done the necessary planning, and will not come ready with an answer. You will! Get your ideas on paper, study them, and go take the competition by storm! Good luck.