10 Things Teaching Special Ed Taught Me

For a couple of months I’ve been subbing as a Special Eductaion Instructional Aid. Every assignment is different but I tend to spend time working with students with a range of special needs, from language issues, to physical needs, to behavioral concerns, it’s always an adventure. 

After spending my first days in a high school Special Ed classroom this week, I thought it might be time to share what I’ve learned from my students.


Comparison is not fair (ison)

Someone is always going to be better than you at something, you cannot be the best at everything. The good news is, you’re really good at some things and you can get better at others. The goal should always be to keep improving, not to compete with someone else’s abilities. Those are their abilities, you have your own.

Sometimes you need to yell or cry or run around


Sometimes sh** goes down and you need to just let yourself react. It might take a pillow scream or jumping around or crying it out and that’s ok. As long as you don’t hurt others, do what you need to.

Take a damn walk

It’s amazing what a walk around the block (or halls) can do for your mood. Removing yourself from a tough situation, taking a breath, getting outside and moving around can solve a lot of inner turmoil.

Everyone has limits, everyone’s limits are valid 


No one can do everything all the time, there’s a limit to what you can do and how well. Those limits shift daily and are different for everyone, which is a wonderful reason to just go ahead and respect everyone’s feelings. 

Some days your limit might be conversing with another human, some days it might be jumping out of a plane, no matter which day, no one gets to decide your limits for you. They’re yours and they’re just fine.

Everyone’s limits can and should be pushed

That said, limits should be pushed every day. Not broken, but shoved a bit. Everyone can afford to grow and expand as far beyond their limits as possible.

Bright colors, interesting textures, and cool patterns make work better


This, of course, applies in my classes, but really everyone needs a little more visual and textural interest in their lives. Photos, plants, images, stress balls, etc can spruce up a work space and significantly reduce stress. These things can give your brain  something to focus the distracting thoughts on so you can work.

The computer is cool

I mean, unless it’s an iPad being thrown across the room…

Inappropriate is funny, inappropriate when you absolutely can’t laugh about it is hilarious. 


Trying not to laugh about something inappropriate is one of my most cherished pass-times. My students have offered some of the greatest contributions to this.

Routine is great

I get that some people dislike routine, but it can really save you on a bad day. Having a plan for meals or travel or bed time can take unnecessary stress out of an overly stressful day.

Small wins are still wins and should be celebrated


It doesn’t have to be a Nobel Prize to get a little applause. So you got out of bed on time this morning and ended up leaving the house early? Awesome. You finished your homework on Friday night? Bomb. You made a delicious meal? Well done, friend. A win is a win, don’t ever shy away from a happy dance.

Best of luck. 


4 thoughts on “10 Things Teaching Special Ed Taught Me

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