About Special Education
Special Education Teachers: What They Do and How to Become One
Every teacher is in some way a mentor or life coach, extending their skills beyond simple academic instruction and more into how to implement these lessons into everyday life, but for those who desire to become special education teachers, that need is magnified one hundred fold.
Special education teachers are a rare breed, combining extraordinary levels of patience and compassion to develop a real connection with the students in their charge, many of whom may have severe physical, mental, or emotional problems. Some students may have learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD, but all will require more attention than the everyday learner.
Potential special education teachers will need to ask themselves if they have the requisite skills to enter this field, but regardless of the inherent ability level, the benefits of special education degree & career far outweigh the potential challenges. Special education is a highly rewarding field and one that allows the teacher to make a real and noticeable difference in a child's life.
But for many, the first question could be, "how do I start?" Since the training is unique, the path forward is slightly different from the normal teaching path as well, but there are several similarities. Below is a list of the few steps required to become a special education teacher.
Step 1: Earn a University Degree
Every state in America requires a bachelor's degree in education, specifically special education; some states offer a complimentary certification for those who already hold a general teaching degree. It's important to check the requirements for each individual area, however, as some places require a master's degree as well.
Though much of the coursework is very similar to a general education degree, a special education program outline has a few extra classes specific to the challenges a teacher in this field will have, such as communication techniques, behavioral support, child assessment, and disabled student instruction, among others.
In addition to the specific classes, potential teachers will also gain specific teaching on how to overcome the challenges that are unique to special needs children, most notably social-emotional learning, classroom management, and instructional strategy. Training in using certain assisted technologies and specialized software programs is usually offered as well.
For many potential teachers, knowing what to expect in special education school can create fear, but programs are available at most major universities: online as well as off-line. When in doubt, visit a campus nearby to ask the advisor any questions that may arise.
Step 2: Gain Special Education Certification
Though some schools may allow a special education teacher to begin classroom instruction immediately after graduation, some may require apprenticeship under the instruction of a more experienced teacher, at the end of which a special certification is bestowed. Others will require the teacher to obtain licensing on their own, primarily if the teacher desires to work in a private school setting.
Nearly every teacher will undergo some time of student teaching as part of their degree program, and for those entering the special education field, this will include hands-on training in a real classroom with real special needs students. This time period allows the teacher to get a better understanding of the position they will soon hold, as well as make an informed decision about whether or not special education is the right field.
Every state is different, so be sure to consult the specific guidelines for each to determine what level of training is required by law.
Step 3: Decide Whether or Not to Specialize
Every special education teacher is specialized in their own right, but some choose to go even deeper and focus on helping students with specific needs. These can include anything from blindness to behavioral disorders, traumatic injuries, autism, or hearing and speech problems.
Specialization in these fields usually requires a master's degree, and the available positions for these fields can be harder to find than a generals special education degree. That being said, a well-trained teacher in a highly specialized sub-field of special education normally finds themselves in high demand.
Regardless of specificity, special education teachers are granted a unique, albeit challenging, opportunity to form a real connection. Though patience and compassion are needed in greater quantities than usual, the one-on-one interaction between teacher and student allows for a relationship to form that will last a lifetime.
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