A special education teacher works with students who have various kinds of disabilities. You will usually be working as part of a team composed of parents, teachers, counselors and school administrators for mentally, emotionally and physically disabled students. Together with the other members of the team, you will come up with an individualized educational program (IEP) that will answer the needs of each student. The IEPs will detail what the objectives of teaching are for that particular student and the actions by which these will be carried out. If any changes need to be made to the IEP, you will be meeting with the other members of the team to discuss the matter.
Your tasks as a special education teacher often depend on where you work and what your specialty is. For example, if you exclusively teach students with disabilities, you will need to cater and present your lessons to meet each student’s needs. You will usually teach students individually or in very small groups. If you are teaching in an inclusive classroom where students with disabilities are mixed with general education students then part of your day will be used to teach classes to the group and ensuring that the instruction is given in such a way that special needs students will be able to follow and understand. You will also be collaborating with other general education teachers to come up with the lessons for this group.
If you are working with the deaf and the blind, you might need assistive technology aids such as the use of Braille writers and software. Those working with severely disabled students endeavor to teach them with basic skills that will help them throughout life. For example, they are taught how to follow instructions and answer questions. If you have students with moderate disabilities under your care, you will typically teach them lessons that will help them develop the necessary skills that will allow them to find work and live on their own.
You can expect to work with a wide spectrum of students, ranging from those in preschool, middle school and high school. However, if you specialize in students with severe disabilities, you will usually work with them until they turn 21 years old.
If you want to succeed as a special education teacher, you need to be very sure about this profession. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work. You need to be very patient with the students under your care. You also need to be very flexible and resourceful since you will have to use a variety of ways to enable your students to understand the lesson you are presenting. Critical thinking is necessary in this profession since you will be evaluating students and coming up with lessons geared towards helping them learn and understand various concepts.
A career as a special education teacher is a vocation. You have to feel a certain kind of calling to work with students suffering from disabilities. If you have this calling, the fulfillment you will feel at seeing your students’ progress is unparalleled. There is also a sense of satisfaction at knowing that your teachings are helping society’s marginalized group survive and live a normal life as much as possible. On the more practical aspect of things, one reason to become a special education teacher is that it provides higher pay.
Special Education Teacher Work Environment
Special education teachers usually teach in public schools while others work in private, magnet and charter schools. Those who work with young children are employed by childcare centers while there others who work in the home of the child, especially if these are infants and toddlers. In these arrangements, they also teach the child’s parents strategies to hone the skills of the child.
Like other teachers, many special education teachers work ten months in a year and get a summer break for two months. There are also districts that schedule teachers to work for eight weeks straight to be followed with a one week break. In the winter, they have a five-week break. While the work is very rewarding, especially students exhibit progress, special education teachers also experience a high level of stress. This has resulted to a high turnover rate among them.
Special Education Teacher Salary
The May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wages report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the mean annual wage of special education teachers is $58,050. Among all special education teachers, those working in secondary schools received the highest pay at $60,410. This was followed by those who worked in middle school who were paid $59,540 while those in kindergarten and elementary school received $56,690. Meanwhile, special education teachers in preschool were paid $55,990.
Special Education Teacher Career Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate of special education teachers is set to rise six percent in the decade covering 2012 to 2022. This rate is slower than the average for all job types. The demand, however, will be higher for special education teachers in preschool which is projected to grow 16 percent. Projections for special education teachers for kindergarten and elementary, middle school and secondary school will rise by six percent, five percent and five percent, respectively.
The need for special education teachers will be fueled by improved screening and early identification of disabilities in children, prompting parents to enroll them into special education programs. Another driver for employment is the law that requires students with disabilities to have access to free public education. However, this will depend on the budget of state and local governments. If they experience deficits then some special education classes may be closed and the teachers let go.
Special Education Teacher Degree
The entry point in this occupation is a bachelor’s degree. This can be a degree solely in special education. Others finish a major in elementary education and minor in special education. In some states, those who have a degree in special education must first obtain a master’s degree in the field to get full certification or license. Special education teachers who wish to teach in public schools must be licensed. It should be noted, however, that private schools don’t have to comply with state requirements but employers prefer those with a special education degree.