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Making Inclusion Work in Secondary Settings

I teach in a self-contained classroom, but I schedule several general education classes for my students each trimester. I work closely with my school counselor to create schedules that will interest and challenge my students. I want them in classes where they will learn something. Inclusion not only provides time for social interaction outside of my classroom, but it’s an opportunity to work on generalizing skills and allows students to learn some grade level content. Some of the classes that my students take include PE, music, choir, history, health, keyboarding, science, and college & career awareness. In a secondary setting, meaningful inclusion can be hard. The content is difficult, and teachers lack training and knowledge when it comes to working with students with disabilities. Here are a few tips for making inclusion successful in a secondary setting.

Modifying General Education Curriculum

As special educators, we often get the curriculum short end of the stick. It's not unusual to find a special education classroom stocked with little curriculum or leftovers that another teacher left and no budget to purchase anything new. I have a lot of direct instruction programs that were designed for at risk students but that I don't really find work for my students with severe disabilities. I also work in a district where that has a lot of subscriptions to curricula and programs and I often incorporate them into my classroom. I love using Reading A to Z  and Writing A to Z with my students in reading groups and I usually use Go Math for at least one of my math groups. I'm also seeing schools move more towards full inclusion and push in models, so it's important that special education teachers understand how to modify curriculum to make it work for our students. Over the years, and with lots of trial and error, I've figured out a way to use lessons that weren't exactly designed for the population I teach and seen tons of student success! Here's are some tips when modifying general education curriculum.

Supervising Student Teachers

Supervising student teachers or interns can be a challenge! You want to provide them with an amazing learning opportunity but you also are responsible for making sure your classroom is running smoothly and that programs are being implemented with fidelity. It may seem overwhelming to give up the control that you work so hard for, but I've had 6 student teachers so far and I promise you it gets easier with practice! Having a supportive and collaborative supervising teacher can make all of the difference for your student teacher's success. I was blessed to work with an amazing SPED teacher when I was student teaching and much of how I handle student teachers came from her. If this is your first student teacher, here are my recommendations for making it a positive learning experience.

Functional Sight Words: Reading in Real Life


I am passionate about creating meaningful reading experiences in my student's lives. I teach middle school and it can be hard to find reading material that is age appropriate for my low level readers so I've worked many hours to create Reading in Real Life. Reading in Real Life is a sight based reading program that uses evidence based instructional practices to teach students functional words that they see in everyday life. This program is excellent for students with significant disabilities, such as Autism or Down syndrome, or students who are learning English as a second language. I used high quality graphics to make sure that RIRL is age appropriate for any grade.

Each RIRL unit includes 20-40 themed sight words, broken up into sections in which 5 new words are introduced at a time. As students master the new words, they are added to their maintenance list. Once students master the included words, they can practice reading the words in a variety of different activities. Ideally, students should also have exposure to the words in the natural setting whenever possible. RIRL is unique because the focus isn't just on the student's ability to recognize the word, but there is a large focus on comprehension as well. What good is it to be able to read a word if we don't know what it means? I love that my students are able to read and understand words that they see all the time!

There are several RIRL products available for purchase at this time. You can click on each one to see a detailed description, word list, and preview.

  ►Reading in Real Life: Signs Edition





  ►Reading in Real Life: Colors Edition

  ►Reading in Real Life: Grocery Edition

  ►Reading in Real Life: Cooking Edition






  ►Reading in Real Life: Restaurant Edition

Interviewing Paraprofessionals

I am lucky to work in a district where I am responsible for hiring the paraprofessionals that work in my classroom. I love that I have control over who I hire but interviewing is one of my least favorite things to do! I remember as a new teacher, I was way more nervous than the people I was interviewing! Thankfully, it's gotten easier over time and you learn the red flags to watch for. I am currently in the process of hiring for a replacement position, so I thought it might be helpful to share my interview questions with you.


A few tips when interviewing: Before we get to the questions, here are a few interviewing tips.

Be upfront and realistic. Sometimes it's a crazy job and you want to find someone who will stick it out through the tough parts. Make sure you applicants know what their job duties will consist of and how you manage the classroom. Personality clashes or disagreements can cause major problems in the classroom. I also like to make sure my applicants know that they will likely be thrown into the job on day 1. My district doesn't provide training, it's all up to the classroom teacher. There is no set aside training time- it all occurs in the classroom and sometimes it may take awhile because I can be pulled away at any moment. If your district does provide training, make sure you share that information as well. I find it almost as helpful as the actual interview questions to see how applicants react to the information that I give them about the job.

Invite another teacher to the interview.  It's always helpful to have another person listen in and discuss the applicants with you after interviewing. I always include my student teachers in interviews so they get the experience. If you don't have a student teacher, invite another SPED teacher to sit in, or even your administrator. My administrator wants nothing to do with my interviews but a lot of administrators want to be more involved.

Keep detailed notes as well as an overall "rating" for each applicant that you interview. This will help you afterwards when making a decision.  I use the app "Interview Assistant" during interviews. It stores all of my questions and I can take notes right there or record audio if I want. It also allows me to rate each interviewee at the end.

Interview Questions:
I always start an interview asking the applicant to tell me about themselves and why they are interested in the position. I ask the basic questions about their prior experience, availability, and if they are able to physically assist with students and are comfortable with toileting, feeding, etc. Here are some of my other go to questions.

  • What do you believe is the purpose of special education? You can learn a lot about how the person will fit in you classroom based on their answer to this one, speaking from prior experience!
  • Describe your understanding of your role if you were hired as a paraprofessional.
  • What strengths would you bring to our classroom?
  • Tell me about the difficulties you might face if you were hired for this position, or the difficulties you've faced when starting a new job in the past. In other words, what are your challenges when in a new position?
  • Tell me about how you would handle a student who was having an emotional outburst (i.e. screaming and crying).
  • Tell me what you would do if a student told you no when you gave him/her a direction. Then follow up with- What would you do if he/she continued to be non-compliant?
  • How do you handle disagreements with other adults in the work environment?
  • What would you do if another person (faculty member, neighbor, etc.) asked you about the students that you work with?
  • What would you do with your time if the student you were assigned to work with was absent?
  • If you were scheduled to attend a general education class with one of our students (like science or PE), what would you see as your role and how would you assist? 
I'd love to hear your favorite interview questions! Leave me a comment below. Thanks for reading!





Teacher Appreciation Gift Tags

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! In case no one has told you yet, you are an amazing teacher and you are making a difference every day!


Preparing for School to School Transitions {Tips for SPED Teachers}

The end of the year is upon us. The kids are feeling it and I'm sure you are too! This is a busy time of year with testing and school activities and paperwork! Well, the paperwork is an all year round thing. In the middle of all the chaos, it's important to start thinking about your students who will be transitioning to a new school next year and the students that will be coming to you! Today, I'm sharing two quick tips for a smooth transition for both you and the student.

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