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Myths About Special Education for Teachers to Unlearn

Special Education

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Special education has been stigmatized for decades — not just among students, but among schools, as well. Students sorted into special ed classrooms tend to suffer from a lack of sufficient funding, which means the students who need the most help learning tend to be left with the fewest resources. Worse, there is perpetually a shortage of teachers interested in working in special education, likely because of so many myths that circulate about the challenges of teaching in special ed spaces.

Special Education

Myth: Special Education Only Involves Severe Disabilities

Too many people inside and outside education will only believe that a person has a disability if a viewer can easily detect that disability. As a result, many mistakenly believe that only the most severely disabled students qualify for special education.

Many disabilities have physical effects, but many do not. Many disabled students who deserve access to special education maintain intellectual, emotional, or behavioral disorders that are not obvious at first glance. What’s more, many seemingly minor disabilities make it much more difficult for students to excel in a typical learning environment, and they need the resources available through special education to absorb information and academically thrive.

No teacher should assume that they can tell who belongs in special education and who does not, especially based on cursory consideration. They should trust their students, relevant guardians, and knowledgeable experts who have more insight into a student’s disability and their academic needs.


Myth: Special Education Is a Niche Field Affecting Few Students

Even if a teacher accepts that more than the most severe disabilities qualify a student for special education, they might assume that there is such a paltry number of disabled students within a school that special ed will not be a sizable portion of the student population. However, this is a mammoth mistake.

The latest studies from Pew Research suggest that the number of students with disabilities in the United States is climbing, thanks in large part to better diagnostic procedures that help identify emotional, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities at an earlier stage. Currently, as much as 14 percent of American students have some disability that could qualify them for special education. However, some estimates suggest that number could be much higher, upwards of 20 percent, if laws recognized a greater number of learning disabilities.

Too many people inside and outside education will only believe that a person has a disability if a viewer can easily detect that disability. As a result, many mistakenly believe that only the most severely disabled students qualify for special education.Click To Tweet

More and more students are in need of special education services. Schools and teachers need to be properly prepared to deliver appropriate educational resources to students with various types of disabilities. Even if special education did not impact many students in a school, students who are disabled deserve the same opportunities to learn like everyone else.

Myth: Students in Need of Special Education Must Be Separated Into Their Own Classrooms

Perhaps one of the most pernicious myths about special education is that kids who are enrolled in special ed are segregated from the rest of the school. In the past, this was true in many educational institutions; students with disabilities were kept in their own classrooms, monitored by their own teachers and aides. However, emerging research demonstrates that students with disabilities perform much better when they are allowed access to the same spaces as non-disabled students, so more schools are striving to combine special education with general education.

This shift to integrated special education makes it even more imperative for teachers to identify and rectify incorrect information and assumptions they hold about disabled students. Teachers who anticipate working with a large number of students with disabilities — which is to say, most teachers — might seriously consider pursuing a Master’s in Special Education, which will provide a greater understanding of various types of disabilities and provide strategies for providing resources and accommodating different types of students in a typical classroom setting.


One final myth maintained by many teachers and school administrators is that special education is not a rewarding field for educators. Indeed, special education can be grueling work; teachers must tailor their lesson plans to the wide variety of learners in their classrooms, and various disabilities can cause endless disruptions that can derail the entire class. However, special education teachers know better than most how important their work is. Every student should have access to education, regardless of their mental, intellectual, emotional, behavioral or physical ability. Teachers who commit to providing quality special education are providing an invaluable service that improves countless lives over the course of their careers. Special education matters, and thus, more teachers need to understand its truths.

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