Special Education: A Rewarding Way To Teach
While all aspects of working in education can be challenging, rewarding and personally fulfilling, there is an extra level of passion, commitment and energy an educator brings to career in special education. As a special education educator, your job may include working with infants or children with disabilities, and with their families. You may spend most of your time helping a class of special education students, working one-on-one with an individual student in a general education classroom, or working with one or more special education students in segments throughout the day. Whatever the specifics of your role, special education is a rewarding, challenging career – one that makes dramatic differences in many lives.
According to US News and World Report, a Special Education teacher is one of the 50 best career choices for the coming decade. In “Best Careers 2011: Special-Education Teacher,” Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality at the National Education Association, stated that there is a need for more special education teachers. With, “[A] slew of opportunities for those who work in the field “ special education teachers at the elementary, pre-school and middle school levels all have projected growth of 18-20 percent, while growth at the high school level is projected at some 13 percent, far above the average for most other occupations.
There are a number of career options available to the special education teachers who are passionate about working in special education. Some of the roles include:
Special Education Teacher: Sometimes the advances your students make will be quite small compared to general population students. As a Special Education teacher in a mainstreamed school system, you will make a positive impact on youth with disabilities in ways that are deeply significant to those students and their immediate family.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Specialist: The increase in early intervention and diagnosis has made ASD educators one of the fastest-growing areas for education-based careers. You may work with a diversely-abled population, and need to stay on top of the latest in techniques and theories.
High-Incidence Disabilities Specialist: High-incidence disabilities include communication disorders (speech and language impairments), specific learning disabilities (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]), mild-to-moderate developmental disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders. This specialization can encompass speech therapy, cognitive processes and developing student-specific behavioral plans.
Low-incidence Disabilities Specialist: Low-incidence disabilities include blindness or low vision, deafness or partial deafness, complex health issues, significant developmental delays, multiple disabilities and/or other psychical impairments. This specialization focuses primarily on working with basic literacy, communication and life skills.
Early Intervention Specialist: An early intervention specialist or early childhood special educator best suits someone comfortable working with infants, toddlers, and pre-k students. Bring your high energy level, boundless enthusiasm and ability to multitask.
Art Therapist: Combing a unique mix of art, education and psychology, an art therapist may work with children in a school setting, with adults in their community, in hospitals, prisons and/or mental health facilities.
Music Therapist: Combining music, education and behavior psychology, a music therapist plans, organizes, and directs concerts, chorals and performances to support and develop growth in students with mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities.
Educational Audiologists: Educational Audiologists assess, identify, assess and provide treatment for hearing, balance, and related disorders, recommend and evaluate hearing aids and other types of assistive hearing devices, and sometimes provide ongoing therapy/aural rehabilitation, though their role tends to be more diagnostic.
Occupational Therapist: Work with children in an educational setting to provide them with skills focused on functional, developmental and academic performance.
Speech-Language Pathologist: Work with a small group of students or one-on-one to help assess and improve a variety of communication issues.
Hearing Loss Interpreter: Work as the communication link between deaf students and faculty and hearing students and faculty. This may also involve educating staff, students and working with the larger community.
School Counselor or Social Worker: Help students at all levels of developmental abilities to plan for and achieve academic success, and assess/intervene when additional resources are necessary.
Educational Diagnostician: Examine a student’s potential learning issues in one-on-one sessions, assess processes and work as part of an interdisciplinary team, to diagnose issues while working as key support for the student and student’s family members.
Think one of these special education opportunities looks like the right career for you? You’ll need to be licensed -- as licensing requirements vary from state to state, it’s best to check with your local Special Education agency to see what is required. Most states will ask that you have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree, as well as a master’s degree in Special Education. You’ll also need to be trained and have completed supervised teaching. There are a myriad of options for a career in Special Education with a specialization that best suits you, and there are numerous accredited colleges and universities offering education degree programs that will meet your requirements. You can earn your education degree either online or an “on-campus” setting and be on the road to making a difference for your students.