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10 Benefits of Teaching Special Education

Thinking about becoming a special education teacher?

Wondering if it’s the right career choice for you?

While teaching special education definitely comes with some unique challenges, the truth is that there are a lot of big benefits to the career as well. Few people realize how rewarding becoming a special ed teacher can be and just how much it can positively influence your life.

Luckily, this article is here to help. Below we’ll give you an overview of the top benefits of teaching special education and tell you why it may be the right career choice for you.

1. You’ll Have a Specialized Skill

One of the benefits of becoming a special education teacher is that it will require you to have a more advanced education and specialized knowledge that other teachers don’t have. You’ll have to be licensed to teach special education and this extra education can help you stand out in the job market.

More job opportunities will become available to you and you’ll have a much better resume that you can use when it comes time to look for new positions. As a result of becoming certified and teaching special ed, you’ll become a much more marketable teacher.

Even if you move on from teaching special ed later on in life, your experiences as a special ed teacher will shape your skills and continue to influence your career in big ways.

2. Special Ed Teachers Are in High Demand

If you want to gain a high amount of job security, becoming a special ed teacher is one of the best ways you can do it. Special education teachers are harder to come by than the average teacher and because of that, you’ll be in high demand.

When it comes time for a job search, whether you’re moving across the country or looking for a job close to home, you’ll often find that it goes very smoothly and is over quickly. There are also plenty of jobs that you can do outside of the classroom as well.

3. Work Days Will Be Shorter

One extra perk of working in special education is that, in many cases, your workday will be much shorter. Special education school days are typically a bit shorter in length than average. Along with that, there is also plenty of flexibility in how you can arrange class schedules and the course curriculum.

While the work can be hard, having a little bit less time at school can be a great perk that can give you the rest and relaxation you need after a hard day of teaching.

4. You’ll Develop Great Relationships With Students

When you work as a special ed teacher, few things can compare to the close relationships you’ll form with your students. You wouldn’t always get the same opportunity to form deep relationships with other types of students like you can as a special education teacher.

Your students’ relationships with you will be a big part of what matters as a special education teacher. You’ll find yourself caring for your children deeply and celebrating their successes as your time with them goes on and as you get more chances to further their education.

5. There’s a Better Adult-to-Child Ratio

While it’s not always the case, when teaching special education there is often a much better ratio of teachers to students. For many teachers, this is a big plus since managing a big classroom full of students can be difficult.

While teaching special ed comes with its challenges, having a smaller focus on a limited number of students can be a better alternative to dealing with a large classroom full of students. While only a few special education students can often be just as difficult to deal with, in other moments it can be a much simpler experience.

6. There Will Be More Individualized Education

You’ll also find that it’s a necessity to give each student plenty of individualized attention when you teach special education. Each child will be different and will have different capabilities. You’ll also be working with students at various grade levels.

Big classrooms make it hard to spend one-on-one time with each student and instead teachers usually have to adopt a one size fits all approach out of necessity.

If you would rather focus on giving your all to a few individual students, then special education will give you that opportunity. No matter what your special education specialization is, you’re likely to have a lot of time to focus on each student along with their specific needs and challenges.

7. You’ll Get to Teach the Students Who Need It Most

By becoming a special education teacher, you’ll get a chance to reach the students who are most in need of help. While all students can benefit from strong educational support, children who are in special education need it even more.

By becoming one of their teachers, you’ll be able to know that you’re making a big difference in their lives. You’ll be educating and caring for the children who need your love and support most of all and will develop stronger teaching skills and capabilities as a result.

8. You’ll Go Beyond the Classroom

When you become a special education teacher, you’ll usually be a lot more than that. You’ll also become their advocate and will have to communicate with other people in the students’ lives.

You’ll often be communicating with parents as well as health professionals and other educators to care for the student. You’ll team up with these people to ensure that a student is not only getting a great education but that their other needs are being met as well.

As a special education teacher, you’ll be influencing many areas of a child’s life and impacting them in ways that extend beyond the classroom.

9. You’ll Be Able to See The Impact Firsthand

By teaching special education students you’ll also be able to see the impact you have on students firsthand. Oftentimes, you’ll spend several years with a student. You may even teach them for the entire time they spend at your school.

When you’re not a special education teacher, this usually isn’t the case. You won’t spend the same amount of time with a typical student who has a different teacher as they move from grade to grade.

On the other hand, working as a special ed teacher will often give you a better chance to see your students grow and learn over the course of time. It also allows you to see the full impact of the work you’ve done to get them to where they are.

10. It’s a Rewarding Experience

Few things can be as rewarding as working with special needs students. You’ll know that you’ll be making a difference in the life of some great kids who need it more than most.

You’ll be able to rest assured knowing that at the end of the day you’ve made good use of your time as a teacher. You’ll see that you have been able to impact others in a positive way.

The truth is that the relationships you form with students are everything and knowing that you impacted their lives and their families’ lives in a positive way is a great feeling.

Ready to Start Teaching Special Education?

Teaching special education can be very challenging. However, teachers who have never done it don’t realize just how rewarding it can be as well. If you’re trying to make the decision of whether you should teach special ed, then consider the above points carefully. Your decision may become a lot easier.

Looking for more teaching and career resources? Check out our resources section now for more great tips and insights.

Top Challenges Facing Today’s Special Educators

Top Challenges Facing Today's Special EducatorsEver since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was introduced in 1975 – guaranteeing students with exceptional needs access to free and appropriate public education – the field of special education has changed substantially. One thing has remained constant: special education is a charged topic. From concerns on how to attract high-quality teaching candidates to optimizing curriculum and teaching techniques, best practices continue to be hotly debated among experts and educators.

To learn more about the most pressing issues facing today’s special educators, we spoke with four leading experts in the field.

Special education jobs and pedagogies are constantly evolving. What’s the biggest change that you’ve witnessed since starting your career?

Mikki Garcia, president at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC): The push towards educating students in the general education environment. Putting the kids in the environment was easy; making sure they are getting a quality education is more difficult. If implemented correctly, this service delivery model is much more expensive, and without adequate federal funding the responsibility is put on the local education agency. The biggest challenge though lies in the general education environment itself and the willingness of administrators and teachers to do their part. Constant training and monitoring has helped but attitudes are hard to change.

Dr. George Giuliani and Dr. Roger Pierangelo, executive directors at the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)There’s been a greater awareness of general education teachers, administration and staff. That being said, there’s a need for more undergraduate and graduate school coursework for future general education teachers in special education classroom management.

Matt Asner, vice president of development at the Autism Society of America: Our college and graduate-level teacher training programs are outdated. Special education is still an unfunded mandate, meaning federal law requires states to make sure school districts provide students who have disabilities with a free and appropriate public education, but the federal government does not provide funds for them to do that.  

What are the greatest challenges facing special educators, students and their families?

Dr. Lauren Morando Rhim, co-founder and executive director at the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS)The biggest challenge is effectively engaging general educational administrators and instructional peers to include and provide high-quality support to students with a diverse range of disabilities. Special educators also frequently struggle with inadequate resources, specialized personnel shortages and cumbersome paperwork that can require substantial quantities of time.

Garcia: The shortage of highly trained special education teachers is an alarming reality. It’s a very difficult job and we just don’t have enough teachers out there to meet the very specific needs of students with exceptionalities. 

Giuliani and Pierangelo: There are also issues pertaining to the budgets of school districts relative to making sure the needs of students are met as dictated by federal, state and local laws. For families, the challenge is ensuring teachers are aware of children’s IEPs [individualized education programs] and that they’re being delivered. Additional special education trends include addressing the needs of English-language learners who are also students with disabilities, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), best practices for teaching and medication management, and research-based interventions.

Assistive technology such as iPads, text-to-voice devices and digital pens are increasingly popular in the classroom for special education and general learners alike. What are the benefits and challenges of these technologies and what can we expect to see in the future?

Garcia: The special education field is always looking for ways to provide access to students who have varying needs – from communication devices for those students who have difficulty speaking to mobility devices for students who have ambulatory issues. Districts are obligated to perform assessments and determine what types of assistive technology devices will help a child best access the curriculum. There is nothing better than seeing a child, who has previously had difficulty with some aspect of access, be able to function more easily because of assistive technology.

Asner: Assistive technology is revolutionizing education but unfortunately schools are way behind the curve in terms of learning how to use it. As we saw recently with LAUSD and the iPad debacle, even when there is money to spend on devices and hardware the knowledge base isn’t there to know how to use it. Especially for students and adults who use augmentative communication, technology has completely changed the terrain. Now almost everybody communicates by typing out what they want to say, by texting and tweeting. The digital revolution has put this in everybody’s hands. Now we have to use it to create space for open and effective communication for people with communication-related disabilities.

From the shortage of special education teachers in nearly every state to classroom integration and new technologies, there’s no question that today’s special education issues will continue to shape the role of future special educators.

Learn more about current special education career opportunities. Or if you’re interested in deepening your specialty and pursuing advanced education, explore our favorite online degree programs.

The SCERTS Model and Your Classroom

The SCERTS Model and Your ClassroomWhen developing an inclusive teaching approach for your classroom, do you struggle with which method to implement? If you’re teaching both neurotypical students and children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), consider the SCERTS Model, which stands for Social Communication, Emotional Regulation and Transactional Support.

This research-based method takes a multidisciplinary approach and outlines individualized strategies to help children develop communication, social and emotional skills. While the SCERTS Model incorporates best practices from well-established ASD approaches (such as TEACCH, Floortime and Social Stories), it differs from traditional approaches by cultivating the capacity of emotional regulation within the student rather than relying on external factors around the student. 

Brief History of the SCERTS Model 

Pioneered by a team of collaborators including Barry Prizant, Ph.D., Amy Wetherby, Ph.D., Emily Rubin and Amy Laurent, the SCERTS Model taps into 25 years of research and clinical/educational practice. These four experts bring combined experience from their work in clinical, university, educational and hospital settings in areas including special education, speech-language pathology, family-centered practice, behavioral and developmental psychology and occupational therapy. 

Now widely used around the world, this approach focuses on the core challenges faced by children with ASD and their families – namely, social communication and emotional regulation. The SCERTS Model uses a cooperative framework that draws a variety of partners together in a team effort. Rather than families, educators and therapists working independently, they work collaboratively and adopt a holistic, person-centered focus.

Appropriate Settings

Appropriate across home, school, community and workplace settings, the SCERTS Model is in line with recommendations by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The ultimate goal is to foster child-initiated communication in real-world activities across a variety of contexts. In a school setting, for example, this means implementing this method in inclusive classrooms so children with ASD can learn with and from neurotypical students who model good social and language behaviors.

“The goal of SCERTS is being able to put these supports into place and embed them in naturally occurring routines for students or naturally occurring activities to increase their active engagement and their ability to learn,” explained Laurent in an interview posted on Presence Learning.

Benefits ASD Learners and More

Designed for all ages and varying developmental abilities, the SCERTS Model benefits individuals with ASD and those who struggle with communication disorders, developmental disabilities and sensory processing disorders. This model can be used with children, teens and older individuals, making it a long-term, flexible approach that spans the challenges faced by different age groups in a variety of settings.

“This is not just about students with autism, it’s about students who have challenges in other developmental capacities, especially social communication and emotional regulation,” Prizant said in the Q&A interview following his Presence Learning webinar.

Key Elements and Implementation

To provide the necessary framework, this comprehensive model focuses on three critical areas

·         SC: Social Communication – developing skills in communication, emotional expression and relationships

·         ER: Emotional Regulation – controlling emotional highs and lows

·         TS: Transactional Support – providing supports to foster communication and learning 

For maximum effectiveness, an integrated team approach works best. Within this cohesive process, parents, educators and service providers partner together from start to finish, including the initial assessment, goal-setting interventions, progress measurement and transactional supports and techniques. This method embeds these elements in the student’s everyday routines and activities across multiple settings, boosting engagement, interpersonal interactions and learning. 

It’s best to have professionals from different disciplines collaborate in this process, including psychologists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists. In school, this means SCERTS-trained educators such as special education teachers and general education teachers are part of the team. Educators can either seek official SCERTS training or self-study SCERTS Model texts.

When mainstreaming children with ASD into inclusive classrooms, the right strategy pays big dividends for all students. The SCERTS Model offers these dividends in the form of a comprehensive method developed and delivered through a team-based effort that fosters the development of communication, social and emotional abilities in every child.

For information curated for special education professionals and families, visit our Resources page. To learn more about education and training available for educators in this specialty, working both inside and outside the classroom, visit our Careers section.

 

Special Education Roles Beyond the Classroom

Teaching is a profession that is both rewarding and challenging – particularly true for special education teachers. Working with students who need additional support can be satisfying yet emotionally draining, which likely contributes to the high turnover rate. Some sources estimate a 75 percent turnover rate for special ed teachers every 10 years, with 50 percent leaving their jobs within five years. Fortunately there are a variety of ways for people with special education experience and training to make a difference outside the classroom. 

Here are some special education jobs that don’t involve teaching:

Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant (LDT-C)

Key elements:

  • Assess/diagnose students with learning difficulties, assist in the development of IEPs (individualized educational programs) and plan or implement instructional programs.
  • Support special education students by identifying their specific needs and ensuring they are met.

Prerequisites:

Requires completion of a graduate-level program, usually 24 to 33 credits – in addition to a master’s degree and often several years of teaching experience. (Note: This role is not found in every school district; research opportunities in your specific area.)

Special Education Advocate

Key elements: 

  • Advocates represent students (and their families) and speak on their behalf in the educational setting.
  • Plan, implement and monitor an educational plan for the student — serving as the student’s voice if any problems or concerns arise.

Prerequisites:

No specific training or certification is required by law but it is a good idea to pursue additional training with a specific focus on advocacy and special education regulations. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates has a variety of helpful resources and training opportunities.

Educational Consultant

Key elements:

  • Share your expertise or experiences related to a specific educational topic or challenge.
  • Package your services in the format you prefer. Options include seminars, workshops or as-needed support.
  • As a self-employed consultant, you decide when and where you want to work.

Prerequisites: 

No additional credentials are required beyond a special education teaching background. 

Tutoring

Key elements:

  • Work as a self-employed freelancer scouting your own clients or sign up as a contractor providing services through a company such as Sylvan or Tutor.com.
  • Flexible schedule: You decide when and where you want to work.

Prerequisites:

Teaching experience and credentials are usually all you need — but some companies/clients will pay higher rates for tutors with special training or advanced education.

School Administration

Key elements:

  • A good option for those who are comfortable staying in the traditional school setting but don’t want to teach students directly.
  • Job titles range from special education administration to more general education roles such as vice principal.

Prerequisites: 

A master’s degree – including degree programs offered online – is a good start. You may then need to bolster your degree with specific administration-related training or certifications, depending on the position.

Fundraising Specialist

Key elements:

  • Lead fundraising efforts at organizations that assist children or education-related causes.
  • Good fit for those with persuasion skills or those motivated to use their winning personalities toward a positive goal.

Prerequisites:

Skills and experience are usually more important than educational degrees but training specifically related to fundraising is a valuable asset. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis offers certification programs in areas such as Fund Raising Management as well as customized training options.

Publishing 

Key elements:

  • A big departure from an educational environment, this is an attractive option for those with specific expertise who are eager for a major change.
  • Various career paths including writing training guides for teachers, developing curriculum materials and training educators (high potential for business travel).

Prerequisites:

Varies based on role and hiring company. Employment notices will offer details.

Teachers who feel the need for a change can pursue a number of career paths that still allow them to provide valuable contributions to children’s education beyond the classroom. For those who want to support children with special needs in a non-teaching role, these special education job alternatives may provide the perfect solution. Learn more about alternative special education careers.

A Closer Look at Autism Spectrum Disorders

Working with students on the autism spectrum can pose unique challenges for teachers, which is why many educators decide to pursue a Master’s of Special EducationAutism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by a wide range or “spectrum” of strengths and differences in social, communication and behavioral challenges. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 68 children has been identified with ASD.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association folded all subgroups of autism (formerly considered separate diagnoses) into one umbrella grouping of ASD in its latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Mainstream and special education teachers, however, should understand the characteristics of these previous subgroups, as well as the teaching challenges they present, because the level of disability for students with ASD can range from mildly impaired to severely disabled. Here’s a breakdown of the subgroups.

Asperger Syndrome

On the milder end of the spectrum, students with Asperger syndrome struggle with social interactions, have limited interests and exhibit repetitive behaviors. As some experience delayed development of motor skills, they might appear clumsy and display awkward mannerisms. According to theAutism Society, “what distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from classic autism are its less severe symptoms and the absence of language delays.”

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), aka PDD-NOS

Students with PDD-NOS exhibit some (but not all) of autism’s characteristics or have relatively mild symptoms, which is why some experts even refer to PDD-NOS as “subthreshold autism.” According to Autism Speaks, “its defining features are significant challenges in social and language development.”

Autistic Disorder

Research Autism characterizes autistic disorder, also known as classic autism, as a pervasive developmental disorder that appears before the age of three and is defined by abnormal functioning in all three ASD areas: reciprocal social interaction, communication and restricted, stereotyped, repetitive behavior 

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

As the rarest subgroup and most severe end of the spectrum, childhood disintegrative disorder describes children who develop normally for the first few years and then quickly lose many social, language, motor and other skills, usually between ages two and four. Often these children also develop a seizure disorder. 

Teaching Challenges

Since many of the characteristics overlap from one ASD subgroup to another, they present some common teaching challenges. For example, because of struggles with communication and social skills, students with ASD might lack eye contact and social reciprocity, resulting in one-sided conversations or giving the appearance of being aloof. They might miss nonverbal cues, struggle to “read between the lines” or see things from someone else’s perspective, making it hard to predict or understand the behavior of others. While some students with ASD might have terrific rote memory, they might find it difficult to understand abstract verbal concepts such as idioms and sarcasm.

The Organization for Autism Research points to common school situations that might cause stress and behavior problems, such as handling transitions, understanding directions, interacting with peers and feeling overwhelmed by stimuli (i.e., noises, lights, etc.). This means students with ASD might struggle with making friends, interpreting facial expressions, working in groups or adapting to a change in classroom routines. Due to the stress (and perhaps as a coping mechanism), students with ASD might exhibit repetitive behaviors (such as rocking or hand-flapping) that could be disruptive to other students. 

The Autism Society says that “some children need help understanding social situations and developing appropriate responses. Others exhibit aggressive or self-injurious behavior, and need assistance managing their behaviors.”

Each student with ASD has individual strengths and challenges, so targeted training helps teachers tailor programs to their unique needs and abilities.While a dedicated classroom might be a great fit for some students with ASD, an inclusive, mainstream classroom might work best for others. By understanding both the characteristics of ASD and the teaching challenges they present, teachers will be better equipped to help all their students succeed.

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 are the different types of Special Education?

Over 6.7 million students are currently receiving some form of special education.

If you’re thinking of teaching children with a learning disability or other special needs, then it’s important to understand just how broad the category of “special education” actually is.

In this post, we’ll quickly introduce you to the thirteen types of special education. This way, you can decide which areas you’d like to focus on as you continue on the path toward becoming a special education professional.

1. Deaf-blindness

This refers to a student that has difficulties when it comes to both hearing and seeing what’s being said and shown to them.

They may not be completely deaf or blind, but the combination of the two of these issues makes it harder for them to learn at the rate of their peers.

In some cases, they have struggled so much that a school dedicated specifically to only the deaf or only the blind did not have the resources to help them.

2. Hearing Impairment

A student with a hearing impairment may not be completely deaf, but they are hard of hearing. In some cases, they may be deaf in one ear or deal with a hearing loss that changes and progresses with time.

In short, it’s any loss or change in hearing that isn’t defined as deafness.

3. Deafness

A deaf child has many specific needs in the classroom.

You may need to learn ASL, understand how to operate a hearing aid system, and find other ways to communicate with deaf students.

4. Specific Learning Disability

A child with a specific learning disability, or SLD, has been diagnosed with a processing or learning issue.

They may have a single learning disability, or they may have more than one. This can make it hard for the child to read, communicate, write, understand math, and more.

Specific Learning Disabilities can include an auditory processing disorder, Dyslexia, a nonverbal learning disability, or Dysgraphia.

5. Autism

There are over 3.5 million Americans currently living on the Autism spectrum.

Autism means that a child may have difficulty expressing or controlling their emotions, have trouble with communication, and even struggle to make friends.

They may also make repetitive movements, fixate on ideas, and become extremely sensitive to their sensory surroundings (like light or sound.)

6. Other Health Impairment

This is a bit of an “umbrella term” when it comes to the types of special education available to learners today.

This can refer to conditions and illnesses that impact a child’s strength, ability to focus or stay awake, and more.

For example, ADHD falls under the category of “Other Health Impairment.

7. Visual Impairment/Blindness

There are nearly 63,000 students who are either blind or dealing with another more severe visual impairment.

Be aware that a child who wears glasses will not fall under the category of Visual Impairment.

A student may require special accommodations, need help learning braille, or even need a guide around their school.

8. Speech or Language Impairment

This is another blanket term in the world of special education. This means that a child has issues with speaking or communication.

They may not speak the language of instruction, they may stutter, and they may have some sort of a voice impairment that prevents them from speaking.

9. Emotional Disturbance

A student with an emotional disturbance deals with moderate to severe mental health issues.

In some cases, they have been diagnosed with a more severe mood disorder, like Bipolar Disorder or even Borderline Personality Disorder. They may also have schizophrenia, extreme anxiety, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder.

They may become angry, mean, or violent, or they may withdraw and isolate themselves to the extreme.

10. Traumatic Brain Injury

This type of special education refers to a student that has suffered from a brain injury that has impacted their physical and/or emotional/learning development.

Usually, this happened because of an accident. In some cases, however, the brain injury could have been sustained because of abuse.

11. Intellectual Disability

This refers to children that don’t simply have a learning disability but have an intellectual ability that is well below average for their age range.

For example, the student may have Down Syndrome.

In some cases, this lower intellectual level can make it hard for the student to take care of themselves. It could also impact their overall social life, and make it tough for them to communicate their needs and feelings.

12. Multiple Disabilities

In some cases, children will have more than one of the disabilities on this list.

This means that parents may need to look into more specialized programs to ensure that their students get the education support they need.

13. Orthopedic Impairment

Students with an orthopedic impairment deal with situations that make it difficult for them to move as easily as children without some sort of disability can.

They may be in a wheelchair, be missing a limb, need a walker, or have a limp or another issue that makes it harder for them to move. In some cases, they may be unable to write or fully turn their heads to read.

The 13 Types of Special Education: Wrapping Up

We hope that this brief overview of the 13 types of special education has helped you to narrow down your specifications when it comes to what you want to concentrate on.

Remember that special education, though challenging, is one of the most rewarding professions to get into.

If you’re ready to jump start your career, let us help you learn how to make a difference in the lives of your future students.