Teaching Special Education
If you're looking for a career that really impacts the lives of others, special education could be the path for you. These students are special due to disabilities like:
Qualified educators are needed to help them learn and reach their full potential. The more we learn about specific learning disabilities, the better we are able to reach these students and help them grow and learn.
Defining Special Education
Many people hold the mistaken belief that all special education students are mentally retarded or physically disabled in some way - which is actually far from the truth. Most special education students only have moderate disabilities. Did you know Gifted & Talented students are labeled "Special Education" as well?
For example, autism can manifest in very mild ways. Asperger's Syndrome is a type of high functioning autism, where students are very intelligent, but maintain some of the social quirks of autism. Furthermore, there are students with Down Syndrome who are also very bright academically.
As a special education teacher, it's your mission to find the strengths of each of your students and help bring those strengths out.
Trainable Mentally Handicapped (THM)
Even students with the most severe disabilities can learn to complete different tasks that would allow them to hold jobs and have a place in society. Many schools take their class of trainable mentally handicapped (TMH) students to a local grocery store, where they learn how to put sale stickers on produce packages, fill helium balloons, and stock groceries. These "little" jobs are necessary to keep a grocery store functioning and a great way for these students to hold a job and interact with other people.
Working in the K-12 Setting
Most special education teachers work in the K-12 education system. While some may teach only special education children in a separate classroom, others aid specific students in other teachers' classrooms as an assistant teacher.
Some special education teachers do 'pull-out' tutoring for individual students, giving them extra help in areas where they might be struggling. Did you know that only 4% of special education teachers work outside the K-12 school system? You'll find them in residential programs or other tutoring programs.
Special Education Teacher Requirements
Teaching special education requires a bachelor's degree in education and licensure by your state of choice. Your student teaching experience will be with special education students. Most special education teachers specialize in a certain type of disability. For example, you may be a speech therapist, teach the hearing impaired, or work with the trainable mentally handicapped. Some specialties will require you to work in several different schools. A teacher who specializes in speech therapy will generally travel to many schools in the same district and work with students individually and in small groups.
Job Security and Satisfaction
Special education teachers are very much in demand in all school districts. Since we're able to pinpoint disabilities such as autism at earlier ages, students can start receiving targeted instruction and assistance earlier in life. This helps close the gap between disabled students and their peers. An autistic child who begins receiving therapy and instruction as a toddler will be much more successful in school than one who simply stays home and waits until kindergarten to receive assistance. Fast forward to high school and this is a huge difference in quality of life.
Being a special education teacher is extremely rewarding but very challenging. You may struggle with outside issues like a lack of budget or administrative support, or you may struggle inwardly with your patience and dedication. Don't get frustrated! The more you dedicate to your students, the more you pour your heart into their education, the more rewarding the results will be in the end!
Learn more information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook for Special Education Teachers (2010-11 Edition).
Schools Offering Special Education Courses:
- B.S. in Elementary Education / Special Education (Dual Major)
- BS Elementary Education