It was a friend who recommended to Dave Plumb that he consider teaching kids with special needs.
But he had his doubts. It was a far departure from the career he had initially planned on, which was teaching physical education, recalled Plumb, a teacher at Ruby Van Meter School in Des Moines. Plumb says he also didn’t know whether he had enough patience for that line of work.
But while he was studying to be a teacher at Iowa State University, he found that the class sizes he would be working with were too large for his liking. Going on his friend’s advice, Plumb decided to learn more about working with individuals with special needs, gaining experience by working at group homes.
Plumb says not only was it fun, but he discovered he had the patience needed, too.
“Back then I learned I did have the patience, and if you just roll with the flow, everything kind of works out,” he says.
After graduating from Iowa State, Plumb went to work at Ruby Van Meter, a school serving students with disabilities. He’s been there for 23 years, the first 13 of which he spent working with individuals with major physical and intellectual disabilities, he says. For the last decade, he has been teaching middle and high school students with intellectual disabilities.
His favorite part of the job is seeing students’ “Aha!” moments and the expression on their faces when they accomplishing something.
“When you work with special needs, it is more challenging for them to learn some things, and the progress can be slow,” Plumb says.
He says there are advantages of teaching in this field vs. a traditional classroom. One is the smaller class size, explains Plumb, who has seven students this year. He also likes that he can take his time with students to ensure they understand the lessons.
The major challenge of teaching special needs students is the amount of paperwork required, he says. While the documentation is necessary, Plumb says, “If I could take out the paperwork, it would make the job much easier.”