Is being a teacher of students with special needs a suitable career choice for you?
As a teacher, you have a certain amount of training and experience already. Have you ever sat down and listed your skills and interests? Here are a few that you and special educators have in common:
- Knowledgeable in a given content area
- At least a basic knowledge of technology that engages students in the curriculum
- Enjoy seeing “the lightbulb” go on when you spend a little extra time helping a student grasp a new concept or develop a new skill or strategy
- Good classroom management
Every classroom has or will have a student who needs special attention. You may be wondering if you have what it takes to be special educator. So what does that day look like? Much like your day, a special educator prepares lesson plans, gathers materials, and the students arrive in class. The big difference is that special educators know which students have a disability and that they need engagement in the curriculum. For instance, a student with a vision challenge needs large text and high contrast, so you present this week’s vocabulary words in that format. Another student learns best when he can move around and be out of his seat. You might have him write on the board for his classwork or use an interactive board throughout the day. You will have planned a small hands-on group activity to demonstrate knowledge acquisition, such as creating a poster of the parts of a plant and pasting on labels that are prepared by a student who can copy vocabulary words. Outside of class, you might have an IEP meeting to attend. You will consult with the speech-language specialist to discuss how to support a student’s goal of answering “wh” questions, such as “Where is the poster about plants?” You will probably send home a note about the successes or activities of the day; these can be prepared as a checklist to make notes easy to use. If you are in a self-contained class, whether students have developmental or emotional challenges, you will probably work with a paraprofessional.
Despite your interest in special education, you may be hesitant to let that be known out of fear of being “stuck” with students who need your talents. However, if you are committed to teaching all of your students and willing to collaborate with others to meet your students’ needs, then you already have what it takes to be a successful special educator. Moreover, if you already include a variety of learning activities in your lessons and use a multi-sensory approach, then you are using skills that special educators use all the time.
Spend a little time in the classroom with special-needs students. Consider speaking with teachers who have students with special needs and discover what makes them excited about their students and career choice. You should also consider taking professional development courses through the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), your district, or your state.
A successful teacher is a lifelong learner who can teach every student. Is that you? If so, consider special education. Your skills can make a difference in the lives of some truly special students.