Episode 27: My Opinion about How a Shadow Teacher can Improve Your Special Needs Child’s Learning

I decided to tackle this topic of a shadow teacher because I encounter a lot of parents who come to my speech therapy clinic seeking advise on what the perfect school is for their child with special needs e.g a child on the Autism spectrum.

These parents almost always express these 2 concerns:

  1. The inability of main stream schools to offer the right facilities to their child/children’s special needs
  2. And the inability of special needs schools to offer the right model for their child/children – These special needs schools often have children with more severe needs & behavioural issues that parents are worried might be passed on to their child/children. These parents feels as though their child is in a better place and just needs a little bit more support to cope in a mainstream school.

What these parents are looking for is a “merge” of some sort between a mainstream school and a special needs school and my response usually is, is that there is no such thing as a perfect school, at least not in Kenya or in many other developing countries. It is up to the parent to create a perfect school for their child/children.

Please visit this post on the advise I give parents on what to consider when choosing the right school for their child/children with special needs.

How a shadow teacher can improve your special needs child's learning

How a shadow teacher can help create “a perfect” school environment

So how can a parent create a perfect school?

The suggestions I offer parents is:

To ignore the idea of choosing a school based on performance or on what other parents are swearing by as being the best school and to instead choose a school based on compassion and on whether the school is willing to accommodate your child’s special learning needs.

If a school is able to accommodate your child’s special learning needs, they should be able to allow you to bring in a shadow teacher.

A shadow teacher is simply a teacher who ‘shadows’ the teacher.

There are many schools in Kenya and the world over who allow shadow teachers to sit in.

The main purpose of a shadow teacher is to help your child access the school curriculum better.

How a shadow teacher can help your child with special needs cope better with mainstream learning

A shadow teacher comes in handy in assisting your child get the individualised support and attention they need if they are in say a class with 10 or 20 other students.

If the school is agreeable, you can suggest that you have a shadow teacher come in, or if you have found a school and feel like the school is really perfect but the only thing missing is specialised learning or attention, you can meet them halfway by bringing in a shadow teacher.

Another advantage of having a shadow teacher is that you can arrange and have the teacher accompany your child to access the other services that they might be accessing e.g. occupational therapy, speech therapy etc. to monitor and keep you up to date with your child’s progress.

A shadow teacher can also come in during the school holidays or on the days that your child doesn’t attend school and offer “tuition” or home-schooling.

I have observed at the clinic that children who have shadow teachers are the ones that make the most progress especially children who have the teacher present in the different environments the children is spending time in.

How a shadow teacher can help your child access other services like speech therapy better

A shadow teacher should be present at your child’s therapy sessions both at home and in school if your child is accessing any form of therapy. This way, they will know how to make sure that the child is offered opportunities to generalise whatever concepts or targets that are being focused on in school, at therapy or at home.

A shadow teacher who is present during potty training will make potty training a breeze because your child will have the same constant in all their  environment.

So as you can see, there are many advantages to having a shadow teacher.

My only word of caution is to sure the shadow teacher doesn’t make your child dependent on them. You don’t want the child dependent. You want them supported so that they become independent.

The shadow’s importance in empowering your child

A good shadow teacher should empower your child on how they can be more independent learners e.g. if your child didn’t know  which homework the teacher talked handed out, it is not up to the shadow teacher to tell them or to pack their homework books for them. The shadow teacher should explain to your child how to go and find out from the teacher about their homework.

This way your child will not only be in charge of their own learning but of everything else.

Another important thing parents should consider is to ensure that the shadow teacher’s loyalty lies with them and their child and not with the school. This way the shadow teacher can be your eyes and ears in the school and tell you if your child isn’t being engaged or tell you if there are particular adaptations that you need to look into to help your child be able to access the curriculum or schooling better.

The one way you can ensure that the shadow teacher’s loyalty lies with you and your child is to negotiate with the school to have you the parent and not the school taking care of the shadow teacher’s pay.


How a shadow teacher can improve your special needs child's learning

The qualifications of a shadow teacher

A shadow teacher:

  • Should have compassion; a shadow teacher should have compassion and passion for your child who is differently able.
  • Is committed
  • Child friendly
  • Be teachable; I think having a person who is teachable is more valuable than having somebody who has skills in areas which will not benefit your child as you will be forced to do a whole lot of “un-schooling”.

It might be less expensive to find someone with the above skills than to find someone who has qualifications in line with child development or education and has to go through the “un-schooling” process.

If you find someone who is; compassionate, passionate, committed, child-friendly and teachable but lacks the technical skill-set of a shadow teacher, you can look into empowering them.


Increase your Knowledge as a parent or professional

How to empower a shadow teacher

You can get your shadow  teacher courses that can help them build their skill-set and capacity.

Our online training school- Speech Therapy Totos Online Training School (STTOTS) for;

  • Therapists;
  • Teachers;
  • Shadow teachers and;
  • Learning support teachers;

is going to launch very soon. Please visit this page to learn more about STTOTS. You can have your shadow teacher register their interest here to be notified when we start accepting enrolments.

The school will equip your shadow teacher to learn:

What you want your shadow teacher to have is a similar knowledge base as that of a speech therapists.


How a shadow teacher can improve your special needs child's learning
Speech Therapy Totos Online Training School (STTOTS)

Final word

I hope this post on shadow teaching has helped shed light on how you can go about creating a “perfect” school environment for your child with special learning needs.

You as a parent can think outside the box and have unconventional solutions that will help your child have optimised communication and overall learning outcomes.

Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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