TWU special needs trained teachers primed to deliver new provincial curriculum

Special education teachers such as Trinity Western University (TWU) alumna Annie Lehbauer will likely become increasingly invaluable in British Columbia’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 public school system given its new curriculum.

Intensifying this likelihood is the longstanding practice and challenges of teaching students with special needs within mainstream classes, say two TWU instructors who taught Lehbauer.

The Surrey School District recently hired Lehbauer, a South Surrey resident, as a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. Lehbauer is also very interested in developing individualized education programs (IEPs) under the province’s new curriculum to maximize the learning success of all students with special needs, not just the deaf and hard of hearing.

Under the new curriculum, teachers’ instruction and assessment of success are now driven more by students’ individual learning strengths and diverse needs than historically. Learning success is more heavily based on how well students can extrapolate meaning or real life applications from course material rather than how well they can memorize content.

Lehbauer predicts she and her students with special needs will flourish under this new curriculum. The recent graduate of TWU’s Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) Program with a minor in special education also has an M.Ed. in deaf education from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“I see that we are truly moving towards a philosophy and practice of knowing the strengths and needs of the individual learner, regardless of whether they are in special or mainstream education. The common goal is to give them the best possible access to the curriculum that we can.”

Lehbauer is well primed to do this, as her TWU degree was the first B.Ed. program in B.C. in 1990 to require students to take a course on meeting the needs of all learners in a mainstream classroom. Her B.Ed. is also one of only a few in Canada that allow students in teacher education to pursue a practicum in their undergraduate years.

Having a younger sister who is culturally Deaf, meaning born deaf, and who learned American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate motivated Lehbauer to specialize in teaching deaf and hard of hearing students through her UBC master’s degree.

She is now collaborating with many different groups to help mainstreamed K to 12 deaf and hard of hearing Surrey School District students succeed. She also draws daily on what she learned in two TWU courses that she took from Kimberly Franklin, the university’s dean of education and a former K to 8 special needs teacher. Lehbauer learned in the courses how to develop learning strategies that address curriculum and individual student learning needs concurrently.

“I am working with parents, classroom teachers and a long list of professionals, including counsellors, audiologists, culturally Deaf and hard of hearing mentors and American Sign Language (ASL) teachers,” explains Lehbauer.

“Having a culturally Deaf sister has helped shape how I can support students, their educational support team and the families. I have a personal appreciation of how finding the right combination of communication, whether it be sign language, auditory access through use of hearing aids or cochlear implants, or both, impacts this group’s learning. There are so many factors in looking at language development for deaf and hard of hearing students. I work with students of all ages, abilities and cultures. Often English is not their first language.”

Franklin, who recently met with Lehbauer to brainstorm ideas for writing IEPs within the new curriculum, predicts the province’s pedagogical shift will require more teachers with Lehbauer’s special education background to help all students.

“In a way, the new curriculum is suggesting that all students need IEPs, careful consideration of who the learner is, their interests, their goals, their place within communities, and then talented educators to come alongside to develop learning opportunities that encourage the growth of the learner,” says Franklin.

Ken Pudlas, a TWU education professor, director of TWU’s Master of Arts in Educational Studies-Special Education (MAES-SPED) and formerly a professor in UBC’s Master of Education-Deaf & Hard of Hearing Program, goes even further.

He predicts school boards’ tightening budgets will deepen the value of teachers with a background in special education in a public school curriculum that now advocates inclusiveness and meeting everyone’s individual learning needs.

“On one hand higher education teacher training has not historically prepared all teachers for meeting exceptional students’ individual learning needs. But, on the other hand, we now have a K to 12 curriculum that is founded on this,” notes Pudlas. “Given the provincial government’s growing public education funding challenges, the focus of this new curriculum makes teachers’ education in accommodating students’ individual needs more marketable than ever, if classrooms are to be fully inclusive.”

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