4 Challenges to Becoming a Special Needs Educator after Earning Your Master's Degree in Special Education

a graphic of the inner-workings of the brain

One huge advantage of pursuing a Master's degree in special education is the chance to apply your passion for helping people to several gratifying special education careers. In fact, with the growing demand for special education professionals, applying your degree to become a special education educator* or administrator is both an honorable choice and a promising one, which could lead to fulfilling work.

That said, working with special needs children comes with its own unique challenges. Here are four things to know before earning your MA in special education so you can be better prepared for the career you choose to pursue afterward.

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.

If you've decided to pursue your Master's degree in special education, you've chosen a fulfilling career path that can truly enrich people's lives. While the challenges you'll face are unique and may add up, the best thing you can do to ensure your success is to understand them up front. That way, you'll be better equipped to overcome the obstacles and keep your attention where it really belongs – your students.

Written by Ashford University staff

For more information about on-time completion rates, the median loan debt of students who completed each program, and other important information, please visit ashford.edu/pd/omase. Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.

*An online degree from Ashford University does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state's education authorities prior to enrolling at Ashford to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher's license. Ashford graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a state-by-state basis that will include one or more of the following: student teaching or practicum experience, additional coursework, additional testing, or, if the state requires a specific type of degree to seek alternative certification, earning an additional degree. None of Ashford's online education programs are CAEP, TEAC or NCATE accredited, which is a requirement for certification in some states. Other factors, such as a student’s criminal history, may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure or employment in this field of study. All prospective students are advised to visit the Education Resource Organizations Directory (EROD) and to contact the licensing body of the state where they are licensed or intend to obtain licensure to verify that these courses qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits in that state prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state’s policies and procedures relating to licensure as those policies are subject to change.

Questions? Talk with an Advisor

Are you currently a licensed RN?

This program requires you to be a current licensed registered nurse. Please check out other programs to reach your education goals such as the BA in Health and Wellness.