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Teaching the Exceptional Student

Jacqueline Williamson graduated with a BBA in Personnel Admin., an MPA in HR Management and an MS in Education. Jacqueline is also a teacher

Exceptional students require exceptional teachers with patience and dedication.

Exceptional students require exceptional teachers with patience and dedication.

Different Learning Styles

To prepare prospective teachers to meet the needs of their students, teacher training programs typically provide instruction in such topics as how to identify students’ needs, interest, and learning styles and what characteristics typically distinguish learners in a particular age group (e.g., adults or teenagers).

If you are going to have students with exceptional needs in your classes, you will need some additional knowledge, skills, and experience specific to the needs of those students.

  1. In order to accommodate the wide range of needs and abilities your exceptional students may have, you may need to act in roles that go beyond the simple provision of classroom instruction.
  2. You may need to review your attitudes, to ensure that they are appropriate for the success of your exceptional students.
  3. You may need to gain greater knowledge and experience concerning people who have exceptional needs in order to learn, for example, exactly how a deaf student can communicate in your classroom or laboratory.

This module is designed to give you skills in preparing yourself to serve your exceptional students.

Both teachers and students have evolved from how the "traditional vocational individual" was identified.

Both teachers and students have evolved from how the "traditional vocational individual" was identified.

Serving Students with Exceptional Needs

Traditionally, vocational teachers education programs have prepared teachers to provide instruction to students who supposedly had common characteristics. Judging from the content of vocational programs, you could have concluded that the following assumptions were true:

  • All students were white, middle-class, and American by birth.
  • Males were always in certain programs, females in others.
  • Students were of average intelligence and spoke English fluently.
  • Students were all teenagers or young adults.
  • Students were physically all alike—two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, all in proper working order.

Not all students in vocational education programs have been like this, of course. Students with different characteristics have always been in vocational education. Today, however, fewer and fewer students conform to this stereotype. Exceptional students have begun to enroll in vocational programs in increasing numbers.

Your Responsibility

Your responsibility as a vocational teacher is to provide instruction to all your students, including those with exceptional needs. In order to do so fairly and effectively, you must be able to accommodate their wide range of needs and abilities. You must be able to meet all those needs.


You can plan a program of professional development based on these steps:

  • Expand your concept of your role—you can ensure that your idea of what you should do, as a vocational teacher, includes all the responsibilities that you will have in serving exceptional students.
  • Review your attitudes—you can identify any attitudes you have that would hinder the success of exceptional students in your vocational program.
  • Gain greater experience—you can broaden your knowledge of exceptional persons and expand your experience in working with them. You can learn about their conditions and their chances for success in vocational education and in the world of work.
Meet with other teachers to examine their methods and strategy...

Meet with other teachers to examine their methods and strategy...

Expanding Your Concept of Your Role

It will be essential for you to fulfill several simple responsibilities in order to serve the exceptional students in your vocational program. As a teacher of exceptional students, you may need to act more frequently in roles that go beyond just providing vocational instruction. You may need to—

  1. Provide input into placement decisions.
  2. Serve in a counseling role.
  3. Help students develop basic skills.
  4. Provide flexible, individualized instruction.
  5. Provide essential first aid.
  6. Perform Administrative tasks.
  7. Teach both your subject and your students.
  8. Keep involved on an ongoing basis.
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The Need to Gain Greater Knowledge, Skills, and Experience

Your next task, then, is to determine what additional knowledge, skills, and experience you may need. You will need to know—

  • The general characteristics of exceptional conditions.
  • What factors that may cloud identification.
  • Legislation and guidelines
    • Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in vocational education settings on the basis of racial/ethnic origin or limited English proficiency.
    • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination in vocational education settings on the basis of sex.
    • The Education of All Handicapped Children Act states that all handicapped children must be placed in the least restrictive environment possible in vocational education settings.
    • Section 504 on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical/sensory handicap or mental retardation.

You will also need to have—

  • A perspective on general characteristics.
  • A perspective on differences.

You will need to identify—

  • Evidence of success.
  • Occupational developments.
  • Burnout.

How to Gain Knowledge, Skills and Experience

  1. Consult reliable resources.
  2. Observe firsthand.
  3. Interact.

Concluding Comments

Teaching students with exceptional needs takes time, patience and experience. When you have all the information necessary to begin your vocation; you will be able to instruction these students in a safe environment. Don't assume that you possess all the qualified skills and expertise necessary to instruct your special students. Do your research and communicate with teachers who have similar expertise to continuous improve your proficiency in teaching your exceptional students.

Let's Put This Into Practice ...

Identifying Special Needs ...

Marsha is a student in your Word Processing Class. You have noticed how she seems to have difficulty keeping up with the assignments while the rest of the class is much further along in the lessons.

After further observations, you discover that Marsha also seems to have problems picking up pencils or other items she has dropped on the floor. You have identified that Marsha has problems with her hands - possibly arthritis.

What should be your next move?

© 2014 Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS


Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on January 28, 2015:

Preparing to teach exceptional students isn't quite as easy as it sounds. It takes a person with a lot of patients, a love for teaching and a true desire to help others.

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on June 06, 2014:

"One size fits all" should not be your approach when creating Lesson Plans for your students. You can use an individualized approach without creating problems for yourself. Get to know your students and make teaching a JOY and not a CHORE!

Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS (author) from Memphis on April 18, 2014:

Teaching exceptional students can be challenging yet rewarding. This is why instructors need systematic preparation. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet ... however, sharing experiences with coworkers can be much more beneficial.

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