Teaching is no doubt one of the most rewarding professions in the world — even though it is simultaneously challenging and can be exhausting. A good teacher can change a person's life, especially for children and adolescents in need of special education.
As the Teacher Certification Degrees website puts it, "The job of a special education teacher includes assisting general education teachers in identifying and assessing children who may have disabilities or special needs. They then adjust lessons to fit the needs of each individual child as part of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)." Special education professionals are excellent communicators and planners and have a way of thinking outside the box when solutions aren't so obvious.
Many individuals make the leap into special education from other teaching roles, often with a desire to advocate for people with disabilities. Activism and special education often go hand-in-hand, as author Tim Villegas observes: "If you are passionate about social justice and want to see how that plays out in the lives of your students, you are going to be a fabulous special education teacher." Many would argue a closer bond is formed between teachers and special education students because there are many layers to working with children with disabilities that go beyond classroom activities.
Disabilities come in an array of forms and intensities including mental, physical and cognitive. There is no "one-size-fits-all" solution to accessibility issues, especially in the education realm. Teachers who are considering entering the field of special education must be equipped to deal with the commitment of investing emotionally and physically. Each student will need individualized attention and unique alterations to the curriculum. Students may not progress at a steady pace together, and some days, students will not meet the set goals. Therefore, special education professionals must have patience and organization.
However, special education is not all blood, sweat and tears. There are many benefits and incentives for those in the profession, and there's an increasing demand for highly skilled professionals. According to Teacher Certification Degrees, the "special education teaching profession is expected to see jobs growth of about 3% through 2028" and, in 2018, "the median annual salary for a special education teacher was $59,780."
Several grants, such as the TEACH Grant, dedicated to those wishing to go to college to become teachers in low-income areas in a field with a scarcity of specialists. This particular grant covers many areas of education, including special education, and is available for those enrolling as undergraduates, post-baccalaureate or graduate students.
In order to work with special education students, you will need to:
- Be a licensed teacher in your state (by obtaining a bachelor's or master's degree in special education and applying for a teaching license)
- Pass state-specific exams
- Get experience by interning in special education classrooms
If you are already a teacher wanting to branch out into special education, you will also need to become licensed in the area. The best way to achieve this is through obtaining a master's degree, as this is a minimum requirement for many employers. Regardless, an advanced degree in special education will undoubtedly prepare you for real-world application in the special education classroom.
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