Looking for a shadow teacher? Here’s what you should know

Looking for a shadow teacher? Here’s what you should know Cover Image

Does your child need a shadow teacher? Does the school provide one? How will your child adapt to one? All this and more answered in this piece by Shweta Sharan.

You must have heard the term ‘shadow teacher’ doing the rounds but chances are that you do not know what exactly it means. The term may sound daunting but many parents prefer a shadow teacher over isolated special needs set-ups or special schools.

Who are shadow teachers?

Shadow teachers are co-teachers or para-educators, who monitor and assist a specific child’s progress in class. In India, they are often assigned to children with special needs. They sit with the child in a regular classroom and make sure that the child is given social, educational and physical support in a classroom that outstrips them in all these categories. The goal is to make sure that they help these children to eventually become part of a mainstream classroom and give them the ability to function individually in such a set-up.

Lead teachers, especially in large Indian classrooms, are unable to pluralize teaching to suit children with specific learning needs. These can be children with behavioural, developmental or learning disorders. Shadow teachers bridge this gap and take the child with special needs under their wing.

Says Dr. Dhaval Mody, Vrudhi Research Foundation, which offers a post graduate diploma course in shadow teaching, “Shadow teachers can also be trained to assist children with many things – children with autism or ADHD, those with physical handicap or visual impairment.”

Why opt for a shadow teacher?

Inclusive classrooms

Many parents of special needs children want their kids to be part of a mainstream, inclusive school instead of putting them in special schools.

Early intervention

According to Dr. Mody, shadows are especially beneficial to children in the 3 to 8 age group. This is when early intervention is possible and we can identify behavioural and developmental disorders early, thereby charting goals and making better progress.

Individual attention

For children with special needs, individual attention is immensely helpful.

Behavioural needs

For children with autism and ADHD, shadows are assigned irrespective of class size. They make sure that a child blends in with the class.

Peer-to-peer interaction

With shadow teachers, special needs children can interact with their peers instead of working in isolation or in a resource room.

Constant change in teachers

A parent whose daughter had Asperger’s syndrome opted for a shadow because there were constant changes in teachers. Some were good, the others were not able to get a handle on the situation. There were also different teachers for different subjects.

What do shadow teachers typically do?

  • Set tasks and work through a child’s challenges.
  • Individualize the teaching curriculum to suit the child
  • Ensure that the child does not disrupt the class. Any class, however flexible it may be, should follow a basic protocol and shadow teachers help their children follow this and understand the dynamics of social interaction.
  • Help those children who are unable to understand instructions or process signals and cues.
  • Be a bridge between the teacher, student and parent. A shadow reports to the parents about the child’s progress. A Montessori that we spoke to told us that the facilitator works closely with the assistant teacher and sets important goals for the child. The shadow and school teachers should work in unison, or else, they cannot be on the same page.
  • Wean the child from her assistance and make him or her independent. This is crucial and should be the long-term goal.

A mother’s experience of using a shadow teacher

We spoke to a mother who used a shadow teacher in a school in East Bangalore. Her son has Asperger’s Syndrome and this is what she had to say about the role of her son’s shadow teacher:

“My son’s shadow teacher made specific goals for him. For example, during the first week, my son had to learn everyone’s names in the class. She also rotated his place in the classroom. She taught him the right way to ask for things in class and how to follow protocol when asking a question.

Apart from this, she made sure that the child had enough movement and a sensory diet at school. My son is a visual learner, so she would make him write down his key words when in school and ask questions only towards the end of the class.

Shadow teachers are not always special educators. They are trained on a case per case basis. But they should know the basics – why sensory breaks are important for their child and other important things.

Most importantly, shadow teachers should wean the child off her support, socially and emotionally and the primary goal for a parent is to make sure that the child is able to work in class independently.”

How do you find shadow teachers and what qualifications do you look for?

It is hard to find a shadow teacher. Qualified special educators do not seek the job. Some of the parents we spoke to opted for the following:

  • Approach special education centers that offer training. Dr. Mody’s course in Mumbai sees everyone from psychologists and regular teachers going to inclusive schools for training as shadows.
  • With the RTE amendments ensuring that there are modifications in the B.Ed course to include special education training and awareness, B.Ed colleges are also good bets.
  • Many schools that allow shadow teachers will have counsellors or other staff members who can double as shadow teachers.
  • A few schools also allow parents to shadow their children.

Schools in Bangalore that allow shadow teachers

  • Vibgyor High School
  • Deens Academy
  • Orchids International School
  • Paramount Public School
  • B.M. English School
  • Bangalore International School
  • Delhi Public School, East
  • Euro School
  • Roots Academy
  • The Foundation School

The flipside

It is difficult for parents to look for such resources on their own.

The parents pay the salary of the shadow teacher apart from the school fees. Typically, payment for shadow teaching ranges anywhere between Rs.5000/- to Rs.10,000/- per month, sometimes more.

Schools may not hold themselves accountable: Many parents we spoke to question ‘why a parent should be held accountable for a child’s progress’.

Says Shilpa Naik Machado, Founder of Curious Caterpillars Montessori, “When you are asking a shadow teacher for children with LD or mild to moderate ADHD, you are absolving the school and the teachers of dealing with all kinds of children. The shadow should be responsible for at least assisting the teacher with a group of underperforming students but if you claim to be students centric, then the teachers should have that kind of attitude. Also, differentiated instruction is necessary. If you ask for a shadow, that means your teachers are either not sensitised, not trained, or you want to not be responsible for the safety and security of a special needs child.”

Hard to find good shadows: Qualified special educators rarely opt for the job. Often, the parents should train the shadow themselves. Says a parent whose child had autism and she needed a shadow teacher, “I had a hard time finding a shadow. I finally found a teacher who needed a job. She did not have any background in teaching such children. She was only a graduate and had two children. I spent some time working with her and my child, training her to understand my son.”

What the future holds: Are shadow teachers necessary or stop-gap measures? In the US and UK, for instance, this form of aid is paid for by the school district and many schools have resource rooms that help special needs children at no extra cost. Teaching assistance in the UK is a specialized task in itself and high level teaching assistants are part of many school set-ups. The education scenario in India is very disorganized, so anxious parents who want to connect the dots may opt for a shadow teacher as the next best thing.

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