Special Education Teacher

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Special Education Teacher


Not everyone learns in the same way. Some people have trouble with reading because the letters appear to be backwards, while some others have emotions that run wild, making it harder for them to concentrate on a math problem. Some take longer to understand concepts and concrete facts, and others are severely developmentally delayed, and will never progress beyond the basics in education.

On the other hand, some students are reading at a twelfth-grade level at the age of eight. Some can complete fractions in their sleep, and are eager to start up with advanced algebra. Others have perfect pitch, and can play anything on the piano after hearing it only once.

These are all exceptional children. They fall short of or surpass the regular educational plans that we have for our students. Left in a regular classroom with a regular teacher, they would never advance to the levels they could attain, which is why special education teachers look out for these students, ensuring that no one falls through the cracks.

Special education teachers are trained to work with students with developmental disabilities; hearing, visual, speech or language disabilities; learning disabilities; behavior disorders or mental illness; and/or high intelligence or talent. They either work in a classroom or school devoted to these children, or assist a teacher in a "regular" classroom. They may work within the established curriculum, or take the special students aside and work with them independently of the rest of the class when necessary.

Regardless of the work environment, special education teachers analyze the unique characteristics of each student, and choose or develop appropriate instructional programs and methods. Along with assisting with academic subjects, it is also up to these teachers to help the students with relationships, social skills, and other life skills. They focus on appropriate behavior, and facilitate the student's integration into the rest of the world.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful special education teachers are organized, passionate people, who are as both flexible and firm, driven and relaxed. They should have a genuine interest in exceptional young people, as well as a true respect for them. They should be positive people, who are able to focus on capabilities and opportunities, rather than focussing on limitations. They should be creative, imaginative, and resourceful, with strong leadership qualities. A good sense of humor, loyalty, and a good set of morals will also come in handy. They should be decisive, and have problem-solving skills, especially under pressure. They are effective time managers, with fantastic communication skills, both written and verbal, as well as listening skills. They are open to other cultures and beliefs, and must be good motivators. They are also fit, with enough stamina to keep up with schools full of students, parents, and administrative staff who all have problems, concerns, and stories to share. Sign language skills are also important.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Work very closely with parents
  • Determine student strengths and areas of need
  • Develop educational goals, objectives and individualized program plans
  • Prepare and present lessons
  • Monitor student performance and assess each student's progress
  • Work collaboratively with other teachers and teaching assistants
  • Teach all or most subjects for a class of children who have a particular type of difficulty, gift, or a variety of disabilities
  • Meet with students on an individual basis or in small groups
  • Work with classroom teachers to help children who have learning disabilities, language deficiencies or special academic requirements
  • Travel from school to school providing tutorial services for students who are hearing or vision impaired
  • Work with teachers to adapt educational programs for exceptional students in regular classrooms
  • A special education teacher's day will be long, tiring, and fulfilling. As they work closely with exceptional students, they must constantly adapt, change, and re-evaluate programs, lessons, and curriculum. They work individually with students, as well as with groups of them. They keep detailed notes on the students, and write up reports on the students' development and advancement. They do not get much chance to travel, and will go outside for walks and physical education lessons.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Special education teachers work in large urban schools, smaller rural schools and schools everywhere in between. They may also work at schools devoted to exceptional children, like a school for the blind. They teach students one-on-one, in integrated classes that range from 15 to 30 students, and in lifeskills classes of 10 to 15 exceptional students. They work in classroom settings, often the same room with the same students all day, everyday, for the duration of the school year.
  • They work indoors, and spend long hours at the school, especially if they are involved in after-school activities. While they usually work in public schools, some work at boarding schools, private schools, public schools, and alternative schools. Some even find work in hospitals, institutional schools, or in the homes of children with severe physical handicaps or injuries. They rarely work alone, but alongside another teacher or an assistant.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Special education teachers can go on to teach in elementary or high school classrooms, either as a head teacher or as a supportive aide. They can become child welfare advocates, social workers, or get into law. They can become camp directors, therapists, or counselors.

  Educational Paths  
Special education teachers are trained first as teachers. There are a few routes individuals can take to become a teacher. One way is to complete an undergraduate university degree (three to four years of study) and then attend teacher's college (one to two years of study). Another way is by combining their academic studies with their professional teaching training. After completing high school, they begin an undergraduate program, and after one or two years of study, individuals would apply to the Faculty of Education. Then during the next three years, they will study education in addition to continuing study in their initial undergraduate degree. At the end of the three-year period, individuals will receive a bachelor of education degree and their teaching certification.

Usually, though, it takes more than just a teacher's certificate to work with exceptional children. Usually, the undergraduate degree or non-educational component of the program is in psychology or social work, rehabilitation, or special education.

It is a good idea to get some experience before starting on an education. Individuals wishing to become special education teachers might want to volunteer with a group home, classroom setting, or organization that works with people with special needs. This will give them a good idea if it's the career for them.


  Universities and Colleges
Clarkson UniversityColorado School of MinesDalhousie University
Oral Roberts UniversityPenn State HarrisburgTemple University
The University of HoustonThompson Rivers UniversityUNB Saint John
University of AlabamaUniversity of ArkansasUniversity of British Columbia
University of IowaUniversity of New BrunswickUniversity of Ottawa
York University
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