Corin’s Classroom – Photo Courtesy: Jared and Corin
Special education teachers sometimes feel like they’re the profession’s red-headed stepchildren. Like other primary-education teaching positions, special education jobs require extraordinary amounts of patience, love, and resolve. They also require a kind of empathy that not everyone possesses.
If you’re thinking about going into special education, ask yourself if you’re capable of unconditionally loving and caring for someone who may not have anywhere else to turn to. If you think you’re up to that challenge, you might make a great special education teacher.
Who Will You Help?
Special education is too often referenced as the unfortunate punchline of bad-taste jokes. The reality, of course, is far more nuanced.
- Learning disabilities – Many special education teachers focus on kids with learning disabilities that include difficulty in reading, visualizing numbers, and spatial reasoning deficiencies. The primary focus here is to adjust the pedagogy to meet these kids’ needs without frustrating them.
- Hearing, language and visual impairments – Some special education charges have severe sensory impediments that make normal classroom learning difficult. Blind and deaf students may not learn any differently than regular kids, but they need extra assistance and special tools to make it easier on them.
- Severe physical or mental impairments – Kids who have suffered traumatic brain or body injuries may require constant attention and need to re-learn basic life and communication skills, while children born with conditions like cerebral palsy or mental retardation need to be treated with special care and patience.
Where Will You Work?
These days, many public and private schools adhere to the “inclusive” model of special education. In practice, this means that most of these students attend regular classes for a good part of the school day, breaking off into special education groups to receive extra assistance and reinforce recently-learned concepts. As a special education teacher, you may sit in on the general education classes in which your charges are enrolled in order to provide support and help the teacher on duty deal with any issues that might arise.
There are exceptions to the inclusive model, of course. Some larger school districts offer stand-alone special education schools or separate severely-disabled students completely from the general population. Since many of these students have difficulty taking care of themselves, you’ll be responsible for writing “Individualized Education Programs” for each of them. These plans take each child’s strengths and weaknesses as a student into account and tailor their education accordingly, increasing the efficiency of the learning process.
Taking the Plunge
Once you decide to become a special education teacher, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree either in a teachable field like biology or in special education itself. You’ll then need to get your teacher’s license, the requirements for which vary by state. Usually there are annual upkeep requirements, including periodic tests and continuing-education classes, associated with these certifications. Most importantly, you’ll need to mentally prepare yourself for the challenge. You’ll need to be more creative, patient, and communicative than a regular teacher. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re not ready.
At the end of the day, being a special education teacher is a labor of love. It requires a type of respect and devotion for your charges that transcends the typical student-teacher relationship. Each day might bring new challenges and difficulties, but you can take comfort in the valuable service that you’re providing.
Misty Davis writes full-time for education blogs nationwide. She writes for www.besteducationdegrees.com where you can find more information on online M.Ed. programs.