Special Education Teacher Jobs

The field of special education is constantly changing in order to better meet the needs of students with learning disabilities, physical impairments, and giftedness. Teachers full of persistence and patience thrive as special education teachers who create a life-impact on the students they instruct.

Teacher Greets Students at Bus Stop

Teachers of special education can work in a variety of settings. While most work in k-12, special education services are also provided for infants through preschoolers. Some teachers work with students who are severely disabled in special settings geared to teach basic life skills. However, the majority of special education teachers work to create a modified version of the standard curriculum. Students may be serviced in the traditional classroom or a resource room.

Special education teachers are required to be highly qualified. They must be licensed to teach special education, which usually requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of a special education program. The licensure process varies by state. Some programs provide teachers with a license to teach special education for grades k-12. Specialty areas are available like mild to moderate disabilities, severe disabilities, and behavioral disabilities.

The average earnings for a special education teacher as of 2008 varied according to grade placements according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For preschool through elementary educators the average salary is US$50,040. Comparatively, middle school intervention specialists the average pay is US$50,810, and for special education teachers at the secondary level, the average is US$51,340. Special education teachers are in high demand.

Special education is a field full of specific jargon, acronyms, and laws. Understanding some of the recent developments in special education gives prospective teachers important background information on the many job requirements of special education teachers.

According to public law 101-476, also know as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all students with disabilities are guaranteed a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. A student’s LRE can be difficult to determine. However, it basically means that a student with special needs should be included in the regular classroom as much as is appropriate. This is often accomplished though an inclusion teacher.

Another important aspect of IDEA is person first language. Intervention specialists teach students with disabilities – not disabled students.

It is vital that all teachers recognize the unique gifts each student brings to the classroom setting.

IDEA was reauthorized in 1997 as public law 105-17 with the important additional requirement of creating individual education plans (IEP’s). These education plans are created by the collaboration of special education teachers, regular classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and sometimes the students. The plan details modifications and accommodations needed by the student. In addition, personal learning goals are set. The plan is evaluated typically on a yearly basis by all involved. When students are ready to graduate, an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) is created to help them succeed in adult life.

In 2001 the No Child Left Behind act was instated. This act requires students with disabilities to demonstrate proficiency on standardized tests. By 2012 the act mandates 100% proficiency in math and reading for all students. Students with disabilities take the same test as typical students but may be provided with accommodations like having questions read out loud. Otherwise, some students may qualify for alternative testing, which requires large amounts of documentation by special education teachers.

Special education teachers often are stressed by their workload. Creating an IEP for each assigned student requires a large amount of record keeping, paperwork, and meetings. Also, they are responsible to uphold the practices established in IEP’s or face possible litigation. New legislation is trying to limit these burdens, but there is a high turnover rate among special education teachers.

Regardless of the obstacles, many teachers of special education find their career extremely rewarding. They have the opportunity to help students on an individual basis achieve their dreams and be valued members of their classrooms and community.

The following resources offer additional information on special education.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

International Association of Special Education

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