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What’s the Best Teaching Environment for ASD Students?

Students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can pose unique teaching challenges due to the complexity of the range of disorders and students’ individual level of disability, which can range from mildly impaired to severely disabled. As a developmental disorder, ASD is characterized by a variety of social, communication and behavioral challenges, requiring teachers to have deep knowledge in these areas.

While a special education classroom might be a great fit for some ASD students, an inclusive, mainstream classroom might work best for others. Within each classroom environment, teachers can also tap into a variety of special education to teach students with ASD, such as Floortime, PRT, SCERTS and TEACCH. Due to so many educational options, this sparks the debate of whether students with ASD perform better in mainstream classroom settings or self-contained environments.

Self-contained vs. Integrated Classrooms

When students with ASD stay in self-contained classrooms, the environment can feel more accepting because they see other students “just like them.” Created to help foster enhanced support for students with special needs, self-contained classrooms – commonly led by a special education teacher –have fewer students, fewer transitions and fewer distractions. This smaller student-to-teacher ratio coupled with the advanced training of special education teachers can provide a greater level of attention and differentiated instruction that caters to the unique challenges of special needs students. 

Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975, schools are required to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities. Recently schools have shifted towards an integrated classroom model, also known as “inclusivity” or “mainstreaming.” The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Autism Research says that inclusive classrooms promote “a welcoming environment for all, where differences are valued and learning opportunities are accessible to all, in every classroom.”

Ari Ne’eman, co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, goes a step further in an NPR interview by saying that “segregated schools lead to segregated societies.” Ne’eman, who was appointed to the National Council on Disability by former President Obama, says that many segregated schools and classrooms have “a culture of low expectations.”

While both sides of the debate have merit, there’s no consensus on which educational setting serves special needs students best.

“Currently there is no specific method to evaluate whether a child on the spectrum learns better with typically developing peers in their classroom or makes better progress in a self-contained classroom that provides one-on-one teaching and therapy,” says Dr. Michelle Rowe, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Health Services and past founding executive director, Kinney Center for Autism, affiliated with Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “It’s important to remember that each child has his or her unique way of learning […] there is no ‘one size fits all’ in autism.”

Readying to Teach ASD Students

With so many unique teaching methods and skills to master when instructing ASD students, special education teachers need, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree (such as in special education or elementary education), along with a teaching license. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, “many states offer general licenses in special education that allow teachers to work with students with a variety of disabilities. Others offer licenses or endorsements based on a disability-specific category, such as autism or behavior disorders.”

Many professionals choose to pursue a Master’s of Special Education, often with a focus on autism, due to the complexity of the disorder.

Taking advanced, specialized training or pursuing an advanced education better prepares educators to understand the special needs of students with ASD and assist with their challenges, whether these students are in a special education classroom or integrated classroom.

Learn more about career opportunities in this important specialty, and if you’re ready to pursue advanced education options then check out our favorite online degree programs.

What Degrees in Secondary Education Are Available?

If you’ve ever wanted a career where you can directly impact the mental, emotional and educational growth of future generations, a career in secondary education may be the perfect fit.

The first step to becoming a secondary school educator is to continue your education and obtain an advanced degree. Here’s what to know about varying degrees, what to expect to learn at each degree level, and what you are qualified for with each degree.

Associate’s Degree in Secondary Education

An associate’s degree in secondary education provides a base for future education opportunities and can open the door to non-teaching roles in secondary education. Students who have a high school diploma or GED may apply for an associate’s degree in secondary education program.

A full-time enrollment in an associate’s degree program, at a school such as a community college, means a degree can be completed in one to two years depending on class load and schedule.

An associate’s degree serves as the building block for a bachelor’s degree since the approximately 60 credit hours earned during an associate’s degree program are often directly transferable to the bachelor’s degree school.

Usually, the associate’s degree completes the first two years of a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program. During the study period for an associate’s degree, you will learn general education topics in addition to secondary education topics. These general education classes may include:

  • Math
  • Social science
  • English
  • Science
  • Humanities
  • Fine Arts

You may also take additional courses related to various teaching specializations. An associate’s degree in secondary education may qualify you for a secondary education position such as a tutor or a teacher’s aide.

Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education

A bachelor’s degree in secondary education is the lowest level required to become a secondary school teacher. If you have an associate’s degree in secondary education, your time frame for completing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education may be limited to two years if your credits apply and transfer.

To gain acceptance into a bachelor’s degree in secondary education program at a college or university, there are more requirements beyond being admitted to that college. Typically, students must also pass the Praxis CORE Academic Skills for Educators exam, or an equivalent state exam, which includes testing on reading, writing and math. Other requirements to a bachelor’s degree in secondary education program may include:

  • Letters of reference
  • Prerequisite GPA
  • Specific course completion
  • Clear background check

Once accepted, you’ll take up to 120 credit hours of courses covering classroom management, adolescent development or psychology, and secondary teaching methods. These will be in addition to general education courses, as well as courses related to the subject you plan on specializing in.

A semester of student teaching is also a requirement for the bachelor’s degree in secondary education. To successfully gain access to a job in the classroom as a secondary school teacher, in addition to a completed bachelor’s degree, obtaining a teaching certificate or credential is required.

Master’s Degree in Secondary Education

A master’s degree in secondary education is for students who want a competitive edge over other secondary school teacher applicants, or for those who aspire to have career options in secondary education beyond the classroom.

Teachers with master’s degrees typically earn more than those with lesser educations, they’re more able to apply for and gain positions at institutions of their choice, and have increased odds of upward mobility in their careers.

Obtaining a master’s degree in secondary education does not require that you have a teaching background, although that can be very helpful when competing against applicants in a specific program.

At a minimum, a master’s degree in secondary education applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree and a GRE score within the past three to five years. Some programs may also require:

  • A valid teaching license or credential
  • Passing scores on basic and specialized PRAXIS exams
  • Clear background check
  • Professional experience in the subject you wish to teach

Students who are enrolled in full-time master’s degree in secondary education programs can typically complete the program within two years to three years. To obtain teaching certification, 190 cumulative hours of approved and documented field experiences in classrooms of certified teachers must be completed before student teaching.

For those who pursue their master’s degree in secondary education, they can expect lifetime earnings to greatly increase versus those who have only bachelor’s degrees. It’s promising for career and financial security, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job outlook through 2026 for high school teachers is growing at 8 percent, with more than 1 million jobs available in 2016. The median annual salary for high school teachers was $59,170 in May 2017, but employees with master’s degrees and higher have the potential to earn much more or even enter other career paths, such as those in secondary education administration.

Beyond better pay, a master’s degree in secondary education allows for more career opportunities beyond secondary schools. Roles you may qualify for with a master’s in secondary education include:

  • Curriculum developers for schools or textbooks
  • Corporate trainers and developers
  • Teachers in college
  • Tutors
  • Content writers
  • Education consultants
  • Principals and educational leaders
  • Educational policy developers
  • Media and technology specialists
  • Child care directors
  • Coach or personal development consultants

If you have a love for teaching or helping others learn, obtaining a master’s degree in secondary education can open limitless career potential for you. It gives you a better chance to teach the subject you want at the school you want, and it allows you to advance at your institution or work beyond it so you achieve the career growth you desire.

To learn more about the online Master of Science in Secondary Education and Accelerated Teaching Certification program from Saint Joseph’s University and what it can do for your career, call (866) 758-7670 or request more information.