By Elizabeth Stein
Veteran teachers will agree that over the course of your career, you will receive countless gifts stating that you are the #1 teacher. I have received these gifts on key chains, plaques, mugs, pencil holders, t-shirts, blackboard erasers…well, you get the idea.
I am very thankful for the thought behind this gift giving. However, I always wonder specifically, what am I doing to earn this? And when I go into the classrooms of my colleagues and see their various #1 teacher gifts proudly decorating their rooms, I wonder how many of them really take the time to reflect on their practice and status as the #1 teacher.
The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) outline the requirements for special education teachers to be considered highly qualified. To be considered a highly qualified teacher, one must obtain the appropriate certification and knowledge needed to teach core subjects. It takes years to earn this status—so much hard work and dedication goes into the process. And when it’s achieved, it is time to celebrate. But that sense of success is only the starting point. It is then time for the teacher to get to work.
The specific requirements must be translated into the question…how does my highly qualified status benefit my students? (If you would like to better understand the requirements and the purpose, click here for frequently asked questions from CEC.)
So, once the teacher is appropriately licensed, meets observation criteria, completes professional development, and takes tests to provide evidence of his or her status…what happens next? I’ll tell you. This teacher enters into a classroom and must put his or her high-quality teaching abilities to the real test: providing effective instruction for students.
Providing best practices for students in special education settings can become complex. There is much involved in the actual delivery of this instruction. For starters, we have individual IEP goals and students’ strengths and needs to attend to. In addition, those of us who teach in inclusion or resource-room settings must collaborate with general education teachers to provide appropriate accommodations and modifications. Implementing strategy instruction is one way to ensure that you are fulfilling your role as a highly qualified teacher.
Strategy instruction helps students become more independent in their learning process. It’s a tool that guides them to make decisions about how to problem solve and ultimately guides them to self-monitor their understanding of the material being learned.
For example, in my 5th grade inclusion class, students struggle to determine the importance of and remember information when reading content-area textbooks. My co-teacher and I worked together to model, scaffold, and gradually release responsibility to the students to apply the SQ3R strategy. Gradually over time, the students are showing the ability to turn the subtitles into questions and then read through sections of the text to answer the question they generated from the subtitle.
Another effective strategy to use is the Experienced-Text-Relationship. This strategy takes a few lessons to complete—but it is well worth the time. The focus is on guiding students to attach meaning to what they are reading. I use this strategy with all genres because it provides students with the mindset to apply what they already know in order to construct meaning from text. Students independently begin to visualize and apply their background knowledge as they gain new information. It’s all about having my students attach meaning to what they need to learn. When something is meaningful, the transfer of skills and knowledge are more attainable.
For me, the key to being considered a highly qualified teacher begins after I have earned degrees, attended professional development sessions, or completed any teaching tests… It begins once I enter my classroom doors.
Perhaps being considered a highly qualified teacher, and reflecting on this quality in your daily teaching, can help you find true and specific meaning in all of those “#1 teacher” gifts!