Tips to deal with Special Students and help them shine

Teaching children can be difficult. Teaching children lacking in their studies or who have poor attitude towards studies can be even more difficult. Teaching “special-children”; well, that can be on a different level altogether.

I never really noticed any “special-students” when I was a student myself, so it surprised me a lot when I saw quite a lot of “special-students” when I began teaching. They tend to have their ways of thinking and can have a hard time focusing or understanding other people.

Some of them are extremely smart despite having social issues, while others have a difficult time studying. “Special-students” are not a special kind where you can find one absolute method to teach them.

As with normal students, every “special-student” also has their individuality and nuance. Therefore, this is more of roughly categorized guidelines I have figured out from my own experience as a teacher to quite a few “special-students” in Hong Kong.

A Quick Summary

  • When it comes to teaching “special-students”, some qualities that will help teachers a lot are being patient, playing along, respecting the students, adapting to them and being prepared.
  • Always remember that it might be more challenging than you initially thought, but it won’t be as tricky as you will once fear.
  • The joy you get from seeing improvements will be like nothing else.
DISCLAIMER: While this article is about “special” children, we do not mean to discriminate them or undermine them. Hence, we have enclosed the word “special” in double-quotes. We understand that they are not lesser by any means, just a bit different, and we intend to give them the full respect they deserve.

Now let’s go through the tips to deal with “special-students”, and see how best you can help them do better.

Be Patient

This is a little obvious. However, as smart as all of us pretend to be, we can all forget the obvious sometimes and need a reminder, and this is a much-needed reminder to a lot of teachers.

Patience is already a necessity for normal students, and it somehow becomes even more of a need for “special-students”. As mentioned before, “special-students” are more prone to throwing tantrums in the middle of the class. They might shout, cry, or even defecate while you are teaching them about alphabets or multiplication.

It can be extremely frustrating, but no teacher worth their salt is ever giving up on their student. So, what can we do? We can be patient. It is anyone’s basic instinct to scold and shout back, and sometimes a little bit of that might be necessary. However, that might end up exacerbating the issue at hand. Instead of losing our calm, it is of prime importance that we take a deep breath, calm down and try out the next few steps.

Play Along

I wonder if you, the person reading this hoping to find proper pointers and suggestions, are scratching your head right now. I discovered this when I just decided to play along with a “special-student” one day, and when I looked over to my colleagues, I noticed that they often do the same thing too.

“Special-students” tend to think a certain way, their way, and it helps if we attempt to understand what that way is to effectively communicate with them in a way that they accept and understand. In this way, ‘playing along’ sounds inauthentic, but it becomes better and easier with practice. Hence, at least in the beginning, play along.

Respect Them

You probably would not find many, or maybe any, people admitting to not respecting “special-children” in a day and age of cancel culture and online outrage. I am not saying that teachers disrespect “special-students”, but if you think you might be doing that, please don’t.

Many people think of “special-children” as inferior. Firstly, that is plain wrong, and secondly, that attitude will not help you teach them in any way. Like what I said before when you respect students and their unique thinking processes, it also broadens your field of view. A wider perspective helps you in your personal life and professional life, no matter what your professional life.

Respecting “special-students”, also, is not only about respecting them yourselves but also about ensuring that other students respect them too. Unfortunately, they tend to be typical targets for teasing by other students. As teachers, it does become our responsibilities to educate them and make sure that “special-students” enjoy as much of a warming and welcoming environment as possible.

Adapt to Them

While teaching “special-students”, one thing you might realise is that the teaching materials you have prepared for the rest of the students might apply best to them. Also, the teaching style that you have been using for a while might not work with them. It can be frustrating, but it is extremely important to adapt to “special-students”. It is crucial for teachers to prepare materials that adhere to their needs, and must also modify their teaching style, to optimize the students’ learning experience and effectiveness, as mentioned above.

Be Prepared

Teaching “special-students” can drain a lot of energy. Make sure that you feel relaxed and prepared. Set aside some time to think about how you are going to conduct your classes and not be tied down to that process like a performance because it will hinder your teaching quality.

Also, one more thing that you may need to be warned about is their parents. My experience has taught me that while some “special-students” are blessed to have very understanding parents who try their best to work with the teachers to make it easier for them to help and educate their children. On the other hand, some parents either do not care enough about their children or demand too much from their teachers. Try your best to communicate with those parents, and explain the difficulty to them.

Also read: How to create a positive learning environment for students.


“Special-students” can especially make you understand why teaching may not be as easy as you once thought. At the same time, though, once you start teaching them, you will also begin to realize that it is not as hard you might have projected in your mind as well. Even, you will notice a gradual but definite improvement. Seeing an improvement in their studies might make you proud, but seeing an improvement in their social skills and attitude will give you one of the highest forms of satisfaction and happiness.

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This article was originally published on January 28, 2021 and was last updated on August 30, 2021.

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