Tips for Teachers on Managing Learning Disabilities

Teacher talking in class
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It's that time of year again- back to school. Uniforms are on sale, school supply deals are rampant and yellow buses begin to resurface on streets far and wide. And while we're all aware the majority of students and some parents dread it, did you also know a lot of teachers do as well? Not that they don't love their jobs, they just have a lot on their plates at the start of a new school year.

They have to get their classrooms ready, prepare to meet students and parents, and of course create engaging back-to-school lesson plans.

Add in the fact that many schools are now understaffed and overcrowded due to budget cuts, and it's no wonder so many teachers dread that back-to-school bell.

To add fuel to this already stressful fire, studies are showing that learning disabilities have increased by 22% over the past 25 years, meaning that students as a whole are needing more personalized, focused attention from their teachers, who are already stretched thin as it is. Making do with what they have, many schools are forced to pack special needs students into already packed classrooms.

This is unfair to everyone involved- the students, the parents, and the teacher. With only so many hours in a school day, teachers have always had a limited time table to try to fit everything in, but add in the fact that they now have to juggle various levels of learning and comprehension and it only amplifies the problem.

If you're a teacher struggling to manage your mixed classroom, consider some of the tips below to help ensure you and your students make the best of the situation.

Solicit Guidance and Advice 

First and foremost, solicit advice from a colleague you respect that has more experience than you. Nothing beats firsthand, reliable wisdom. They will likely be glad to help and offer up their own personal stories and issues they've encountered throughout their careers. Their insight will likely help you look at your problems from a different perspective and help you devise effective solutions to correct the problems.

Make the Most of Professional Development Opportunities 

This means taking the time to attend workshops and seminars on the issue and possibly even enrolling in a course or two.

Given the increasing rate of disorders such as autism and Asperger's in students today, it's only common sense the industry will offer educational sessions and resources on how to handle the matter.

Plus, not only will you learn new, innovative approaches and solutions to your problems, you will also get the opportunity to interact with other educators under the same stress and pressure as you. This can be very beneficial as it will remind you that you are not alone in your struggles and there is absolutely nothing lacking in your abilities as a teacher. You all can get together and learn from each other's stories and experiences.

Be Honest About Your Limits 

This tip is especially important because only you know your breaking point. Only you understand what you can and cannot handle. So, if you feel you honestly can't handle the amount or diversity of students in your classroom-speak up. Arrange a meeting with your principal and voice your concerns. He or she should be willing to work with you, to ensure the students get the education they deserve.

It in no way reflects on your identity as a teacher.

I saw this first hand when my sister, who has been a third-grade teacher for the better part of her adult life, encountered an obstacle in her teaching career. One year she had a class with nearly 30 students-7 of which had some sort of learning disability. At first, she was trying her best to make it work, but after the first grading period she realized she wasn't doing any of the student's justice- she was just stretched too thin. So she brought the issue to the attention of her boss who quickly reassigned students as necessary-apparently she hadn't realized this had happened in the first place.

So, you never know. Just remember, if you find yourself in a situation like this, no one benefits from your suffering or struggling in silence.

Overall, given that our education system is at a place it's never been before, this whole process is a work in progress. The best that today's educators can do is give their all and keep the students' best interests at heart. But then again, that's always been the role of a teacher.