What You Need to Know About Working in Special Education
Being able to connect with and foster learning in special needs children requires a very special skillset, and there are not enough trained educators to meet the growing demand in America’s schools. The U.S. Department of Education has identified special education as one of several areas in which there is a severe shortage of capable teachers and support workers, and the demand for trained special educators has risen so greatly that there is an entire organization working to address the shortage.
What Do Special Educators Do?
For those who may be unfamiliar, special education teachers work with students who have certain disabilities as this influences their education lessons. These disabilities can often be learning, physical, emotional, and mental related. Because of this, educators must adapt lessons and teach many different subjects to students who vary in age. Subjects can include math, reading, writing, and communications.
Many educators work in public schools with students from the preschool level all the way up to the high school level. Public schools are not the only institutions, as many can also be found in private schools.
Day-to-day Special Education Challenges
Working with special needs children comes with its own unique challenges. Here are some of the things you will be doing and some of the challenges you may face on a day-to-day basis as a professional in special education.
1. Where's the support?
In a demanding field like special education, it's important to have the right support systems in place so you can do your job well – both practically and emotionally. Perhaps surprisingly, one area where support for special education educators often falls short is among parents of special needs students. This fact is easier to understand when you consider that working with special needs children is as challenging for parents as it can be for educators – if not more so. As a result, your students' parents may have an incomplete or inaccurate view of your role and capabilities or simply lack the specialized information you learned while getting your degree.
Support for special education professionals needs to come from their personal and professional networks and from the institutions and communities they serve. Whether it's in the form of concrete resources like staffing and budget or more intangible rewards like appreciation and recognition, the presence or absence of external support can make a big difference in the life of a special education professional.
2. Pile on the paperwork
One thing that educators who work in special education will tell you is to prepare for paperwork – and lots of it. Between items like IEPs, REEDs, progress reports, billing forms and more, you'll find that the administrative side of special education can take up a lot more time than you think. Beyond the basic paperwork, society's emphasis on and measurement of academic success demands that data be gathered and progress assessed continuously. For educators who are primarily motivated by working with and helping special needs children, the administrative side of the job is an extra challenge you'll want to consider.
3. A Range of Individual Needs
More so than in a general education environment, the diversity of needs and skills that special education students require can be quite pronounced. Your methods will need to be tailored to suit individual students' learning styles and capabilities. When you add the fact that special education classrooms can have a mixture of ages, grade levels, and curricula, the need for individualized attention is both a challenge and an opportunity for you to stand out as special education instructor.
4. Dealing with Colleagues
As a special education professional, you may work in an environment that also serves general education students. If so, you may interact with administrative professionals who aren't themselves trained in special education. Whether it's coordinating with general education teachers on curricula, training and managing your own classroom aides, scheduling and conducting meetings, or working with administrators, the demands on everyone from a collaboration standpoint can be high.
It's important that special education professionals be great not only at working with their students, but also at communicating with adults. Identify ways to share your expertise and opinions with people who may not understand the field as well as you do, and you'll set yourself up for a smoother experience.
Written by Ashford University staff