Many famous people suffered from learning disabilities—people like Whoopi Goldberg, Walt Disney, Hans Christian Anderson and even Albert Einstein. Learn about becoming a special education teacher, the requirements and responsibilities, and why this career path is so important in today’s world.
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What Is a Special Education Teacher?
Special education teachers fulfill many job functions. While teachers generally focus on delivering academics, special ed. teachers must not only educate, but do it in unique and outside-the-box ways, as well as being an advocate for special needs students.
These teachers perform many of the same duties as all teachers do, including lesson planning, instruction, classroom management and the like. They also have to manage individualized education programs, or IEPs, for students with special needs. They must also assess students for these special needs and create an IEP for the student.
This career path requires the ability to effectively multitask duties such as attending and scheduling IEP meetings, developing and instituting IEPs, setting goals and landmarks for educational progress, guiding general ed. teachers on special needs approaches, conducting assessments, managing the classroom, evaluation and oversight of paraprofessional assistants, behavior management and more.
What Does a Special Ed. Teacher Do?
Every day is different for a special education teacher, but in general you can expect to put in more work hours than a general teacher does. You’ll get to school at least an hour before students arrive to take care of administrative issues, respond to emails, write your schedule and prepare the classroom.
You’ll spend the day juggling activities between managing the classroom, coaching and counseling other teachers, preparing and delivering individualized lessons to special needs students and offering behavioral and academic support.
At the end of the day you’ll organize your classroom and begin preparations for tomorrow. You’ll then attend an IEP meeting to evaluate one or more students’ progress and establish new goals as necessary. You’ll send out any needed contacts to parents, administrators or other teachers, and then perform any other required tasks like grading, attending staff meetings, managing and overseeing extracurriculars, filing and clerical work. Expect to stay at school at least an hour, if not several, after the day ends every day.
Requirements for Special Education Teachers
The requirements to become a certified special education teacher vary from state-to-state, but in general you’ll need at minimum a bachelor’s degree including the completion of a student teaching program. You’ll then need to seek permanent credentials within the next five years, plus build up two years of classroom teaching experience.
You’ll need to build up special ed. credentials in one of several areas including:
- Early Childhood: This allows you to work with pre-K students.
- Mild or Moderate Disability: This certifies you to work in special day classes or resource specialist programs with students who have mild behavioral or academic disabilities.
- Moderate or Severe Disability: This certification allows you to work in contained special needs classrooms teaching functional and basic skills to those with serious physical or cognitive disabilities, up to age 22.
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing: This ensures you can work with kids who qualify as DoHH, and may range from no other disability to serious disabilities.
- Visual Impairment: Like DoHH, but for students who have vision problems ranging from partial blindness to being fully blind.
- Other Credentials: Your state may offer various other credentials, including those specialized in autism, ADHD, or other behavioral, physical or health impairments.
Special education teachers earn on average around $58,500 annually, depending on specialization and according to the U.S. BLS with the top earners pulling in up to $94,200. Of course, it all begins with becoming a teacher in the first place. Check out the requirements to get licensed in your state, and review some of the other amazing career paths for an educator today.