Career in Special Education

A career in special education offers challenges and rewards, and plenty of opportunities for those interested in the field.

Type of work

In most schools, special education teachers help to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special education student. The IEP sets goals for the student based on his or her individual needs and ability.

IEPs for elementary students include steps to prepare special needs students for middle school or high school, while IEPs for high school students prepare them for jobs or post-secondary study.

Special education teachers review the IEP with the student’s parents, school administrators, and the student’s general education teacher. They work closely with parents to inform them of their child’s progress and suggest techniques to promote learning at home.

Special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula, assign work geared toward each student’s needs and abilities, and grade papers and homework assignments. They are involved in the students’ behavioral, social, and academic development, helping the students develop emotionally, feel comfortable in social situations, and be aware of socially acceptable behavior.

An important part of a career in special education involves interacting with other professionals. Special education teachers work with students’ general teachers to adapt mainstream curriculum to students with disabilities. With the increasing trend toward inclusion, people with a career in special education may work full time in a regular classroom in order to accommodate students with special needs. Special education teachers also communicate frequently with parents, social workers, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, school administrators, and other teachers who have contact with their students.

Where special education career professionals work

Most individuals with a career in special education work in public schools, and a small percentage work in private schools. About half of special education teachers work in elementary schools, while the other half work in middle or high schools. Some special education teachers work outside the school environment, assisting special needs youths or adults in social assistance agencies, residential facilities, or in home-bound or hospital environments.

Special education teachers who work with infants usually travel to the child’s home to work with the child and his or her parents. Many of these infants have medical problems that slow normal development. Special education teachers show parents techniques and activities designed to stimulate the infant and encourage the growth and development of the child’s skills. Toddlers usually receive their services at a preschool where special education teachers help them develop social, self-help, motor, language, and cognitive skills, often through the use of play.

Advancement in a special education career

A career in special education may not end in the classroom. Some special education teachers advance to become supervisors or administrators. Others earn advanced degrees and become instructors in colleges that prepare others to teach special education.

In some school systems, highly experienced teachers may serve as mentors to newer teachers. They provide guidance to others while maintaining a light teaching load for themselves.

Job prospects for a career in special education

While overall student growth is expected to remain steady in the coming years, the number of students needing special education services will grow because of medical advances leading to earlier and more comprehensive identification of disabilities in children. Additionally, early intervention legislation and increased parent awareness are pressuring schools to offer comprehensive special education programs led by qualified teachers.

Although schools throughout the country report difficulties in finding qualified teachers, institutions in inner cities and rural areas usually have more job openings than suburban or wealthy urban areas. Job opportunities may be better for teachers with certain specialties, such as working with children with autism, because of the increased enrollment of students with these needs. Bilingual special education teachers and those with multicultural experience are also needed to serve an increasingly diverse student population.

Requirements for a career in special education

Those pursuing a career in special education in the state of Texas must have a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate provided through an education degree or an Alternative Certification Program.

The Web-Centric Alternative Certification Program (WCACP) allows individuals to obtain their teaching certification from the comfort of their own home. The courses, video conferences and chats are 100 percent online, so individuals can work at their own pace. Some students finish in one semester, while others take more time to complete their certification because of family and work requirements. The EC-12 Special Education content area equips students to teach several specialties within early childhood though high school levels.