Teaching Students with Varying Exceptionalities (Part 1)

Teaching can be a rewarding career. Being able to interact with students of all ages, teaching, supporting, and ultimately shaping their lives, can be fulfilling and tough at the same time. This is especially true of teaching students with learning disabilities, behavioral problems, gifted students, and many more characteristics of students qualified under VE (Varying Exceptionalities).

‘Varying exceptionalities’ is actually a category that falls under ESE (Exceptional Student Education). When attending college with the goal of becoming an ESE teacher, one should consider the various areas of Exceptional Student Education. Some areas require a degree specific to the field, such as speech therapists/pathologists who work with ESE students with speech and/or language impairment.

Teaching students with varying exceptionalities can be a very rewarding career. (Photo courtesy of University of Central Arkansas)

Included in ESE and thus VE are:

  • Autism (Spectrum Disorder): When working with students that have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism, challenges are expected. A teacher may work with students that have some type of disorder that is a component of ASD: autistic disorder, Rhett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. Working with students with ASD is a challenging yet very rewarding opportunity. There are certifications available through most BA programs focusing on education and certification in ESE.
  • Cognitive disabilities: This is a very broad term, maybe more so than Autism Spectrum Disorder, but usually refers to a student that has some difficulty in various mental tasks. This can be physiological or biological—within the brain. Mental retardation, learning and intellectual disabilities, biological processes (genetic) and even a traumatic brain injury. Teachers may actually work with students in the mainstream classroom with learning disabilities that are minimal that they often go unnoticed and undiagnosed. Working with students with cognitive abilities presents its own challenges, demanding creativity, patience, and perseverance from the teacher. Usually getting certified in ESE is enough to cover cognitive disabilities.
  • Deaf/Hard of hearing: In most schools, when there are students present that are deaf or hard of hearing, there will be a certified ASL (American Sign Language) specialist. They may work with the teacher to communicate with deaf/hearing impaired students. They will work side by side with their students, ensuring that they’re needs are being met.
  • Speech/Language impaired: Speech/Language pathologists and therapists work with students that have speech or language impairment. In Florida schools, they see the students separately from their mainstream classroom, and work with them to develop, repair, and maintain proper speech and language function.
  • Visually impaired: Visually impaired students usually have specific needs, especially if they are legally blind or are completely blind. Visual impairment can range from blindness (where the student relies mainly on other senses and may need to read using Braille) to low vision. Teachers with visually impaired students in their class need to be patient, accommodating, and able to make modifications that aid the student in their learning.

Although teachers with VE students must meet more challenges in their classrooms, this is a rewarding career path. Even though teaching isn’t as an in-demand position as it was in the past, ESE teachers, speech therapists, and specialists of many different degrees of educating VE students, are being needed more and more. There is more job security in a specific ESE field, and some (such as a speech therapist) are even able to work outside of the public school system.

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