Special Education

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Articles on Special Education:
   Major in Special Education
   A future in Special Education
   Special Education Major...A Closer Look
   Explore a Major in Special Education

Major in Special Education

Article by Rachelle Wiggins

“Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”

 ~Rita Pierson, Educator

None of us are untouched by disability. Whether it is a family member, friend or just an acquaintance, we are all aware of those who struggle with some degree of cognitive, emotional or physical limitation. Special education is a subspecialty of education that focuses on teaching K-12 children who have learning needs or disabilities. Few careers are as challenging, yet rewarding as those in the important field of special education! Many who major in special education possess a sense of calling to this helping profession where the goal is to assist disabled children gain life skills and reach their highest potential. In this major, you will learn about specific disabilities such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia and orthopedic, audio or visual impairment. Whether you end up teaching children with mild or more severe disabilities, you will become proficient in special education topics such as classroom management, social-emotional learning and writing IEPs (individual education plans). You will also learn strategies for intervention, curriculum adaptation and assessment within an inclusive classroom or resource room. If you are fascinated by the process of learning, enjoy instructing others and genuinely love children with special needs, then this may be just the major for you!

Beyond these passions, what are some of the other traits needed in order to thrive as a special education major? Flexibility, creativity and adaptability are important as you will constantly improvise the way you teach, based on students’ individual needs. Since special education entails juggling many “moving pieces” like constant planning, instructing, administrating and assessing, strong organizational skills are imperative, as well. Good communication skills are also a must. This applies to classroom instruction, but also when working on a broader team of administrators, educators, and parents. Finally, compassion, patience, strong intuition and a calm, even nature are essential in a profession that is highly relational, demanding and filled with diverse learners with varying academic, social, emotional and physical needs.

As an education major, you can expect to take core classes and then complete classes on pedagogy (teaching methods and practice) as it relates to special education. You will engage in hands-on teaching exercises and spend time observing teachers in special education settings. You will conclude your college experience with a semester of student teaching where a mentoring teacher will guide you and give feedback about your instruction. Courses you will likely take include:

  • Educational psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Child assessment
  • Special education law
  • Learning acquisition 

Once you have your special education degree, the career opportunities are ever-expanding. Special education majors are not only employed in all sorts of school settings, but also in hospitals, daycare centers, public or private residential facilities, government or non-profit organizations, mental health facilities, and residential therapeutic camps. Though the majority of special education graduates teach students in a more traditional, academic setting, there are other career options to consider:

  • Early intervention specialist
  • Creative arts or recreational therapist
  • Autism spectrum disorder specialist
  • Hospital pediatric educator/advisor 
  • Special education policy-maker or advocate 

If you feel eager to truly make a difference in the lives of the disabled and impacting future generations through your compassionate care and instruction, then perhaps God is prodding your heart towards a major in special education!