Even though the number of students enrolling in school is expected to slow down in the future, you probably won’t have any problem finding a job in education if you are a special education teacher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this area of teaching is in high demand. Because of improvements in assessment techniques that have allowed children with learning disabilities to be diagnosed earlier, the BLS predicts that the number of teachers in special education will grow by 17 percent through 2018. Many school districts, in fact, say they have trouble finding enough teachers who are qualified to work with special needs children.
The reason for the shortage, however, is because this area of teaching may not be for everyone. Teachers in special education work with students who have intellectual or physical disabilities such as autism, brain injury, blindness, cerebral palsy, deafness, emotional disturbances, learning disabilities, mental deficiency, multiple sclerosis, or speech impairment. These disabilities can range from mild to moderate to severe, and some children may suffer from more than one. This means that every special needs student’s situation is different. If you want to teach disabled students, you must possess much patience, good communication skills, and organizational capacity, as well as creativity and an ability to motivate special needs students to learn. You also must have a basic understanding of specific disabilities and training in the different teaching methods you will use.
Because of all of these qualifications, becoming a special education teacher may require more years in school and a longer training period. You will need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in special education. Many bachelor’s degree programs in special education add an extra fifth year in order for you to go through the specialized training necessary to work with special needs students. Some states also prefer teachers in special education to hold at least a master’s degree, which can take from one to three additional years to complete.
Some teachers in special education work with severely impaired children in private institutions, medical facilities, or in their homes. The majority of them, however, teach children with mild to moderate disabilities in public school systems. This can involve teaching in a separate class that contains only special needs students, providing specialized services to disabled students in a general education classroom or working with disabled students for a few hours a day in an independent resource room. Private learning centers, correctional facilities, and mental health institutions are other environments where teachers trained to work with special needs children are needed.
Teachers of special needs students must develop an individualized education program (IEP) for each disabled student they work with. The IEP sets personalized goals for the student, which are specially adapted to fit the student’s individual needs and learning abilities. It may also include a transition plan to prepare the student for entry into secondary education, college, or the workforce. The teacher then works closely with the student’s parents, general education teachers, and school officials to maintain and revise the plan as needed.
A special education teacher also adapts regular school curricula so that it is suitable for each student’s individual needs and learning abilities and prepares the student for post-educational life by giving career counseling or helping him or her learn life skills.