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A future in Special Education
By Jennifer Bailey
So, you love kids with challenges? Would you love to help them grow and learn? A degree in special education prepares students for a career as a teacher specifically for K-12 students who specifically have mild to moderate disabilities; either mentally, physically, socially and/or emotionally delayed. This aspect of “delay,” broadly categorized as a developmental delay, signifies an aspect of the child's overall development whether physical, cognitive or scholastic and places them behind their peers. Due to these special requirements, students’ needs cannot be met within the traditional classroom environment. Special education programs and services adapt content and teaching methods in order to meet the appropriate needs of each child. Special needs children could have multiple disabilities that include Autism or a traumatic brain injury. They may have speech or language impairments, be hearing impaired, deaf, blind or both, they may have emotional disturbances, developmentally delayed or have orthopedic needs or simply be ADHD. There is a broad spectrum under the special education umbrella, and you will potentially work with all of the above over the course of your career in this amazingly rewarding field.
In all cases, the first step toward a career as a special education teacher is earning a bachelor’s degree. Coursework typically includes classes in subjects such as child assessment, educational psychology, behavior support, communication techniques and disabled student instruction. Degree programs in special education on both the bachelor’s and master’s levels are abundant and offered by both public and private colleges and universities both offline and online.
You will find many jobs available to you once you graduate; however, it is worth noting that special education teachers have a higher rate of burnout than is found in most other professions. The burnout rate is the result of a number of issues; and, sadly the result of this turnover rate is a shortage of special education teachers and a lack of quality programs for the students they serve.
Some of the issues that special education teachers face are: (1) the misperception that teaching is easy. It is actually a uniquely difficult job and one that comes with huge responsibilities and is largely unrecognized and unsupported by the public, (2) many teachers are trained and willing to teach but find themselves burdened with other responsibilities that keep them out of the classroom because they are required to go to meetings, conduct assessments and deal with loads of paperwork, (3) there is also the issue of having to work with children who have multiple disabilities so the teacher must modify their lessons to suit each disabled learner by providing individualized education programs, (4) an unexpected issue many teachers don't expect to face is the death of one of their students as students in this setting often have severe and chronic illnesses that may result in death. This can certainly be a challenge to which you would have to adapt and, (5) there can also be the feeling of isolation- as the nature of your work would be different than that of a traditional teacher.
Any one of these challenges would make the work of a special education teacher incredibly difficult. If you desire to go into this incredibly rewarding area of teaching, please be aware of the issues you will likely face and be sure you are a person with a deep love for the downcast and broken. Be sure you have the mental and emotional fortitude to overcome these challenges. Your efforts will change these special lives forever and you will be blessed.