• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 7 comments on Almost Every State Needs More Special Ed Teachers. How Can They Get Them?

  1. Many thanks for this informative interview.

    Paying more is not just a “small piece” of the problem. It’s quite large (I speak as someone with relatives in the field). It goes hand in hand, of course, with the reluctance of Americans to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to having a “world-class” educational system. “We want great education, but please don’t ask us to pay for it.”

  2. I am a Special Education attorney: in other words, I help parents get appropriate educational services for their children with disabilities. There are 2 problems I see over and over and over again.

    One is identified by the author here: I have known more than one dedicated special educator who has left public schools because of administrators who have kept them from doing their jobs. Fair is fair: the IDEA has never been fully funded by the federal government, leaving state and local governments to pick up the slack (otherwise known as 60% of the tab, last I checked).

    Another problem is special educators who have been miseducated about learning disabilities. One painful example is the lack of connection between the people in psychology departments of universities who have been studying how to teach students with dyslexia how to read and the people in departments of education who are charged with doing the actual teaching of those students. They need to talk with each other and build a shared curriculum for special education teachers and neuropsychologists.

    The departments of psychology have come up with a systematic, sequential, multi-sensory method for teaching students with dyslexia to read known as Orton Gillingham (named for its inventors). As a neuropsychologist I work with is fond of saying, the scientific research is converging on Orton Gillingham as THE way that works to teach people with dyslexia how to read. And yet, many many special education teachers in the field right now do not understand the first thing about the Orton Gillingham approach, because it never showed up in their curriculum at school. These silos of learning within our institutions of higher learning do not serve our teachers well, and they are actively harming American schoolchildren.

    1. Heya.

      To add a complicating factor, administration may not understand the logistics of a given strategy, even down to the most basic level.

      My mother taught OG as a reading specialist for most of her career. She did it with small (1-4 person) groups of students for 20 minutes several times a week in a pull-out class. The students had been identified by a specific test for placement. She was great at her job and loved by the parents of students she helped.

      Last year, I was told that I would be teaching a “reading support class.” It ended up being OG materials. I was surprised, as phonics didn’t seem to be an issue with our students, so I spoke to their previous teacher to see if they had seen any issues; they said none. I asked the district what evidence erhey had that any of the students at our school had issues with phonics. They had none.

      In August I had 15 students in the class which met every day. I asked why those students were placed in the class and was told that they were unsuccessful the previous year. We administered the NEA’s MAP test (I’m not a fan) and they made a perfect bell curve of scores. I administered the 10th week assessment for my OG materials in the first week of class. Without any instruction, every student scored 100%. When I raised this point, I was told to do “something to help their reading.”

      The class was eventually dissolved, in part to reduce the size of the co-taught class, which was at 36 students.

      This is par for the course in many aspects of my job, and I’m at a relatively good school.

      This year, they’ve overloaded the co-taught classes again due to staffing (SpEd) shortages and taken the special education teacher who was identified by the previous administrator as a “glorified aid” and given them 4 different co-teach classes with 11+ SpEd students per class over two subjects and two grade levels and made them department chair because they were the only SpEd teacher to return to the school.

  3. “Special educators, they’re super patient, but they’re typically not as smart.” Are you kidding? I have been a special education teacher for nearly 30 years in an urban school district and have never, never heard or perceived this notion from anyone in education. Wow! What a way to encourage people to become special educators or help with special education recruitment and retention with this kind of statement. Hope this will be debunked soon and never printed again. I strongly recommend you and this family member visit and walk with a special educator,soon.

  4. I got my degree including special Ed at Wheelock in 1984. I taught for three years in one school and then went to a new school. At that time they gave me a closet with two high windows in it for a classroom with one child in a wheelchair and five other students. Ultimately, the lack of support from the district led to me leaving the teaching profession. It was not the kids or the parents. I got great support from parents and loved those children. It’s really sad to hear how this lack of special ed teachers is affecting kids across the country. I am happy to say I did find my true passion in the safari business over the last 35 years, and I’ve been running an African safari company!

  5. I think that students striving to become Special Education Teachers should be told about the CRAZY amount of paperwork that comes with teaching. So many have no idea and get overwhelmed with the amount they get bombarded with when they get into the classroom. So many teachers quit after just one year because of feeling overworked and over run with paperwork.

  6. The real reason for the so-called shortage of special education teachers is that administration believes they are saving money by running qualified special education teachers out, keeping paraprofessionals, and hiring long term substitute teachers to support the paraprofessionals, or hiring teachers from the Philippines. This is based on inside information from my husband who has a friend whose brother is an assistant principal for a local school district, my personal experience of being a special education teacher for going on 14 years now, and that of many special education teachers that I have talked to over the years who have worked for various school districts. This is especially true if you teach moderately to severely disabled students and students on the autistic spectrum. Sadly, many administrators have low expectations for these students and do not value their education. They do not realize that even nonverbal students on the autistic spectrum can be highly intelligent. Regardless of this, however, I think all students regardless of their disability deserve a quality education. Sadly, the public school system in the United States is broken, especially when it comes to special needs students. Unfortunately, throwing more money at recruiting new teachers will not solve the problem.

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