Working With Gifted Students: Issues and Advice for Aspiring Teachers

Working With Gifted Students: Issues and Advice for Aspiring Teachers

A common career path for special education teachers is working with children with learning disabilities. There is, however, another path to choose. The special education field is rich with opportunities for those seeking to work with gifted children.

There are an estimated 3 million children with intellectual gifts and academic talent in the U.S., according to the Council for Exceptional Children, a professional association of educators.

The education of these children goes far beyond standard curriculum. It is a particularly dynamic area within special education that includes important issues such as increasing representation of racial minorities and poor socioeconomic communities in gifted programs. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds who would be considered high potential when entering school often do not maintain their level of achievement if their environment does not support their different learning styles. The classroom is the frontline in the fight to provide special needs students with guidance.

Children with high achievement capabilities pose a unique set of learning and social challenges to special education teachers.

Learning Challenges

Gifted and talented students face some special difficulties their teachers need to address, including boredom, a high need for attention and pacing issues.

Gifted students may not be engaged by what is asked of them and may tune out or act out, so teachers need to manage boredom and lack of mental stimulation. Their teachers may require a high amount of creativity to keep them engaged and attentive. Their learning pace may also vary, as some may move faster because they finish assignments quickly, or slower because they search for more understanding in the material they are studying.

Social Challenges

There are additional inter- and intra-personal challenges that come when working with this population.

Students are gifted in different ways and at different levels – they may not all be straight-A students – and teachers should recognize gifted children and encourage their talents. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, it is important to foster a healthy expectation within the child, that progress is measured by competition with oneself rather than competition against others. Teachers also need to develop collaborative relationships with other educators, parents and families who may (or may not) advocate for high-potential children. 

Teachers of the gifted say the job involves both joy and frustration. Gifted children will ask insightful questions, demand answers you do not have and surprise you with their abilities. 

What Qualifications Are Needed?

As with mainstream or other special education specializations, the requirements to become a special education teacher of gifted children vary from state to state; there are no federally mandated standards. Advanced degrees in special education are available nationwide. Many college and universities offer online courses.

Common requirements include some combination of a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in education or special education, teaching license and perhaps also teaching license endorsements and approvals.

What Background Is Preferred?

Teachers of gifted children may come from a variety of fields outside special education (or ESE/Exceptional Student Education), and may be new to classroom education entirely. Common previous work experience includes speech therapist, occupational therapist, counselor or speech/language pathologist. The National Association of Special Education (NASET) lists graduate degrees that are eligible for board certification in special education by the American Academy of Special Education (AASEP). 

Many people begin teaching gifted children after 10 or fewer years in an entry-level role. The experience required to teach gifted children varies from job to job, depending on the needs of the educating institute.

Salary Expectations

Salaries for special education jobs vary across states and from district to district. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, average salaries approach $100,000 in some metropolitan areas in California and New York. The average salary in non-metropolitan centers in Massachusetts and New Mexico, for example, exceeds $70,000. As you are investigating your options, you may want to explore a full review of wage and salary data for special education teachers across the U.S.

Employment Outlook and Job Market

Employment growth will be driven by a continued demand for special education services. Employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024 – about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

For those who enjoy helping students with exceptional potential move toward highly successful futures, becoming a special education teacher is a great career choice.

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.  

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