Should I Become a Special Education Teacher?

Special education teachers work with students who have been diagnosed with a disability. Disabilities may be mental, physical, learning, or emotional. A special education teacher degree and certification qualifies the educator to teach disabled students and teach basic skills to general education students. 

Special Education Teacher Description 

One of the biggest challenges in special education is working alongside parents, counselors, aides, and administrators to make sure each child’s needs are being met. Special education teachers must take input from all parties to help child study team members develop Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for all students in their classrooms. As part of the special education teacher requirements for the job, the educator will need to set academic and behavioral goals. The teacher will also be responsible for making sure each student has access to any special modifications listed in the IEP. Special education paperwork overload is a common complaint, but educators of disabled children must make sure all classroom progress is well documented.

A special education classroom design can vary drastically from school to school. A special education teacher may be in charge of an entire classroom of children with disabilities or be placed in an inclusion setting with a blend of both disabled students and general education students (especially common in early childhood and elementary education). Special education teachers can also be assigned to work one-on-one with students in a resource room setting.

What are the Rewards of Being a Special Education Teacher?

Rewards of being a special education teacher are emotional and financial.  Educators face the biggest challenges in special education classrooms, but every victory with a disabled student feels monumental. Although helping any student learn is rewarding, it feels good to teach a student who struggles. Managing special education students with behavioral issues will help an educator learn both patience and coping strategies in high-stress situations. Special education teachers make a powerful impact on students and are integral for improving post-secondary school outcomes.

Another positive attribute of being a special education teacher is that job outlook for the next ten years looks good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job outlook is 8% for special education teachers—faster than the average for all occupations. Special education teacher certification opportunities provide more room for advancement. With a specialization after achieving a special education certification, the educator may choose to work as a reading specialist or math resource room teacher. Special education teachers may also bring home a slightly higher salary than general education teachers. Elementary school teachers have a median wage of $57,980 annually while special education teachers make an average of  $59,780.

A common question is, why special education teachers quit? Teachers don’t usually decide to quit due to the challenges posed by students. According to Education Week, special education teachers often quit because not enough support is offered through their districts.

What are Special Education Teacher Requirements?

Special education teacher requirements are different from state to state. However, most states ask for the teacher to be certified in special education. At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree is required to work as a special education teacher and apply for certification. Many colleges offer five-year degree tracks that allow teachers to earn both their bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degree in special education concurrently. Teachers will also need to take the special education Praxis exam in most states.

Teachers who are already licensed educators can look if their state offers an endorsement program for special education. Endorsement programs include online classes that prepare teachers to work with disabled students. After education requirements are met, the job applicant can write a special education teacher skills resume. Special education resumes will focus on showcasing college degrees earned, special education teacher certifications, and childcare experience with disabled and non-disabled students.

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