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A Career in Special Education

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If you are thinking about a career in teaching, you might want to think about the field of special education. Employment of special education teachers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, the need for special education teachers is greater than ever. Most estimates indicate that more than two million new special education instructors will be needed by the year 2010. Although the number of children who will be taking special education programs is expected to decline, the overall demand for services will increase, in part because schools are increasingly offering children in special education the chance to ''mainstream'' and take classes with students in regular classes instead of having only the choice of taking special education classes with other special education students. Teachers with special education training may also be hired by family members to become private tutors, assisting a child throughout the day with one-on-one sessions.

Teaching special education students requires a great deal of patience and fortitude. These students require a great deal of help and understanding. Special education teachers work with children and youths who have a variety of disabilities. A number of special education teachers work with students with mental retardation or autism, primarily teaching them life skills and basic literacy. The majority of special education teachers, however, work with children with mild to moderate disabilities, utilizing the general education curriculum, or modifying it, to meet the given child’s individual needs. The majority of special education teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle, and secondary school level, although some teachers work with infants and toddlers.

Many types of disabilities qualify students for special education programs. These include specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, emotional disorders, mental retardation, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, deafness, blindness, traumatic brain injuries, and other health impairments. Usually, students are classified under one of the aforementioned categories, and special education teachers are prepared through their training to work with specific groups. An important aspect of a special education teacher’s job is recognizing a child with special needs at the earliest stages. Early intervention is often critical in educating children with disabilities.

Special education teachers utilize various techniques to promote learning. Teaching methods can include individualized instruction, problem-solving assignments, and small-group work, depending on the disability. These teachers also help develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special education student. The IEP sets personalized goals for each student and is designed to meet the student’s individual needs and abilities. Teachers review the IEP with the student’s parents, school administrators, and the student’s general education teacher. Special education teachers work together with parents to inform them of their child’s progress and to suggest learning methods at home. When appropriate, the IEP program includes a transition plan laying out specific steps to prepare students with disabilities for middle school or high school or, in the case of older students, a job or postsecondary study.

Special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula, assign work geared toward each student’s needs and abilities, and grade papers and homework assignments. They are directly involved in the students’ behavioral, social, and academic development. Preparing special education students for daily life after graduation is also an important aspect of the job. As schools become more inclusive, special education teachers and general education teachers are increasingly working together in general education classrooms to adapt curriculum materials and teaching techniques to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Special education teachers coordinate the work of teachers, teacher assistants, and related personnel (therapists and social workers, for example) to match the individualized needs of the given student within the special education structure. Special education teachers are in frequent contact with parents, social workers, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, school administrators, and other teachers.

All 50 states require special education teachers to be licensed, which generally requires at least a bachelor’s degree and completion of an approved training program in special education teaching. Many states require a master’s degree. Other states have alternative methods for entry into the field for bachelor’s degree holders who do not have training in education.

In order for one to be an effective special education teacher, one must be patient, be able to motivate students, be understanding of the students’ special needs, and be accepting of differences in others. Special education teachers must be creative and apply different styles of teaching methods to reach students who are having difficulty learning. Communication and cooperation are necessary skills because special education teachers spend a great deal of time interacting with others, including students, parents, school faculty, and administrators.

The job prospects are excellent as many school districts increasingly report difficulty in finding adequate numbers of certified special education teachers. The median annual earnings in May 2006 for wage-and-salary special education teachers who worked primarily in preschools, kindergartens, and elementary schools were $46,360. The median annual earnings of wage-and-salary middle school special education teachers were $47,650. And the median annual earnings of wage-and-salary special education teachers who worked primarily in secondary schools were $48,330. In many schools, teachers receive extra pay for coaching sports and working with students in extracurricular activities. And some teachers earn extra income during the summer, working in the school system or in other related jobs.

In short, with all the opportunities currently out there for special education teachers, a career in special education may well be worth pursuing.
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Popular tags:

 patience  teachers  curriculum  teaching methods  literacy  general education  Individualized Education Program  elementary schools  tutors  disability

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