Many people seek a career where they can really make a difference in the lives of others. If this is you, a career in special education may be the right career for you. As we all know, there are many students who have disabilities ranging from speech impediments to other disabilities such as autism and mental retardation. These students need extra attention as well as teachers who are qualified to teach them and, in the process, help them to reach their potential in greater numbers than in previous years. As teachers learn more about students with disabilities, they can learn better ways to teach them. There are greater opportunities to reach out to these students due to the advances in technology we are seeing today. Technology has also increased students ability to achieve. My 8-year old nephew who has autism, is a genius on the computer. Part of his classroom curriculum includes doing work on the computer. As a result of teachers who have carefully followed his IEP, although he’s in the 2nd grade, he reads at a 5th grade level and is excelling in many other areas of his education.
There are misperceptions to teaching special education. The first is that all of the special education students are severely disabled. The reality of it is that only a small percentage of the students are severely disabled. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of special education teachers work with children who have mild to moderate disabilities. Take autism for example, there is a wide spectrum for this disorder that ranges from mild to severe. Many children with autism aren’t as restricted in their communication. Some students with Asperger’s syndrome have very high IQ’s. Many children with Down Syndrome are also extremely functional and are passing proficiency exams.
Another misperception is that these students don’t learn. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Even severely disabled students are learning different tasks. For special education teachers, I’m sure it is very rewarding to watch as their students work and progress. While it’s true that special education students might not learn at the same pace as their counterparts, the bottom line is they are learning. It’s worth it to spend extra time with a student to see them succeed in the end.
About 96 percent of special education teachers work in elementary, middle, and high schools. Some of these teachers have their own classrooms and only teach special education students. Others offer individual attention to help special education students in general classroom settings, or they may work in a classroom that is part special education and part general education. The remaining 4 percent of special education teachers work in residential facilities or tutor students in other environments.
In Illinois, the law requires special education teachers to earn a bachelor’s degree in that field, perform student teaching, and be licensed by the state. It’s important to have teachers who are educated and qualified teaching special education students. Their curriculum is different than that of teachers who teach students without disabilities and they have to be able to cater to their students specific needs.
Special education teachers are in high demand in many school districts today. This is due to the fact that disabilities are being identified in students at earlier ages. My nephew, whose autism was diagnosed at age 2, has been in school since he was 2 years old. The earlier disabilities are diagnosed, the better it is for children to start receiving the proper educational assistance. When students go to school at earlier ages, they experience more successful outcomes, where in previous years, they may have dropped out or not really learned as well.
While being a special education teacher has its rewards, such as helping your students succeed and seeing their progress, there are also challenges that come along with the job. In all truth, it is hard work to do. It requires alot of patience and dedication. There are times when it will be frustrating. Oftentimes there is a struggle for the administration to get the resources they need. Sometimes the teachers and administration may not understand what they’re doing, which is another reason it’s important to have an educational background in special education. In some classrooms, teachers have students who have more than one disorder, sometimes including behavior disorders in addition to their underlying disability.
Each student with a disability (or disabilities) is an individual case. For example, no two students with autism are the same. One may not speak at all while another can have a very advanced vocabulary. With the varying degrees in cognitive and learning disabilities, each student will need an individualized IEP which is an educational plan to help them achieve their set learning goals. Teachers have to be able to figure out what the student’s needs are and find a way to go about helping them. Everyday is going to be a different kind of challenge, but in the end it will all be worth it. These students need someone who will take the time to teach them and for those teachers who decide to go into special education, hats off to you. You’re making a world of a difference.