Working with students in special education is a highly rewarding career. Each day brings something new so that you are never bored. While you are studying and preparing to be a special education teacher, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the daily life you can expect in your future profession. In many instances, you will have a variety of students of different ages, with varying levels and types of disability including learning, mental, emotional, social, and physical developmental setbacks. Some cases may be mild, while others are more severe.
It will be your job to find the best ways to work with each individual and their unique set of circumstances. To serve that job requirement, as a student you will learn the ideal ways to teach effective communication, literacy improvement techniques, and skill development approaches. You will learn to create customized lesson plans and be able to discipline students, and you will spend far more time working with other adults than you might expect such as parents, other teachers, counselors, psychologists, school administrators, student tutors, etc. Fortunately, when you attend a reputable and accredited higher learning institution for your special education teaching degree, they prepare you for all of this and more.
Resources for Special Education Students
The focus of special education amongst teaching professionals is becoming one of the most in-demand careers. Just as all other teaching careers, it requires you to complete at least a four-year education degree from a college or university that is accredited. Employers will only consider teachers who graduate from a regionally accredited higher learning institution.
You could also check to see if your teaching college is accredited by one or more of the most reputable teachers education accrediting bodies in the US, such as:
These program-level accreditations will tell future potential employers that you have been trained in the most relevant, effective and up-to-date teaching methodologies available. You will immediately be seen as more credible and be prepared to teach students with learning disabilities over other teachers who graduated from schools without such prestigious accreditations.
Questions About Financial Aid
Today, you can find a variety of sources to assist with financial aid. Each type of financial aid is unique, just as is the way you pay it back. Some types will have an interest rate, increasing the amount you owe as long as it takes you to pay it back, and some will be considered a gift you do not have to pay back at all. You might have to maintain GPA requirement for some and others you may be required to have a specific major or subject of study. The set of rules will be unique for each specific financial aid opportunity.
If you can find grants relevant to your career path (TEACH Grant), you’ll want to apply for as many as possible. This type of financial aid does not require return payment. They are often considered free money with few strings attached. You will likely have to possess an interest in a specific field of study, be a part of a specific demographic, or plan to enter a certain field to earn this aid. Many grants are for research and for individuals who can demonstrate they are in need of financial assistance. You can find grants through government agencies or private corporations.
Scholarships do not have to be repaid either. However, this type of financial aid often comes with a few more stipulations, such as maintaining a specific GPA during the semesters for which you receive this type of financial assistance. You might also have to stay within a specific program and major to keep the scholarship. And it is also possible to pursue a “scholarship for service”. These types of education scholarships will pay for almost every expense of your academic career. The catch is that you have to work for the provider of the scholarship upon graduation for several years, usually equal to the amount of years you received the aid.
For those students who require further financial assistance, student loans are available. You will have to pay the loans back, with interest. Even with grants and scholarships, most college students require some form of a student loan. These are available through the government/federal loans or private lending entities. You will have to determine the right repayment options for you. As such, it is important that you consider the amount of money you can expect to make upon graduation and whether or not you can afford your student loan payments on your future salary.
Special Education Associations for Students
Special education associations for students are essential for your pre-career development. These associations and organizations help prepare special education teaching students in invaluable ways. You will learn firsthand from active teachers about the realities of daily life as a special education teacher. You can make essential networking connections with other teachers and administrators that might lead to prestigious student teaching positions. Such associations and organizations also provide an endless amount of resources to help prepare for exams and homework assignments. And you will have access to student discounts for events, journals, and more.
- The National Association of Special Education Teachers:
The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) is entirely dedicated to students preparing for a career in special education teaching and existing special education teachers.
- The Council for Exceptional Children:
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) offers discounts to students for various portions of the organization and helps with career development hours, state requirements, webinars, and events.
- The Association for the Severely Handicapped:
The Association for the Severely Handicapped (TASH) is an international organization that provides even more unique perspectives in the special needs world focusing on professional development, resources, research, policies, and more.
- The National Organization on Disability:
The National Organization on Disability (NOD) is a non-profit organization focusing on the necessary skills required for individuals with disabilities to get jobs in the workforce after their education.
- National Center for Learning Disabilities:
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) works to transform schools to assist with kids who are in the special education system and advocate for the students.
Student or Open Access Journals
Special education journals will be an essential part of your educational journey. They will help you prepare presentations, daily assignments, exams, and teaching plans. These journals are available for nearly every type of special education in every aspect of the field. It is important to remember to review a variety of journals from varying perspectives so that you have a firm understanding of all views of special education, including the view from parents, students, educators, researchers, and grown adults who went through the special education process. This will make you the most dynamic and in-demand special education teacher in your class. Keep in mind that many journals offer discounts to students. They might also be open access or have free access for certain association and organization members.
The following are just a few examples:
Special Education Study Resources
Online study resources are also a critical component to developing your special education teaching career. These resources help provide you with less scientific or research-based information. Many of such study resources provide information from actual special education teachers and administrators. This can help you develop a more practical approach to your teaching so that you have a solid understanding of the current issues and struggles of both the teachers and the students in special education. Possessing this perspective will help prepare you to become a successful student teacher.
- Teacher Vision:
Teacher Vision provides a wealth of online resources regarding classroom management tools and curriculum methodologies, including adapting techniques and tips.
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities:
The National Center for Learning Disabilities provides extensive knowledge and resources regarding the different types of learning disabilities through articles and videos.
- Learning Disabilities Online:
Learning Disabilities Online offers teaching supplemental information and strategies for teaching materials with dedicated sections for educators.
- Adapting for Autism:
Adapting for Autism provides tips, materials, and resources specifically centered around children with various levels of autism so that teachers can better customize teaching plans for these children.
- Intervention Central:
Intervention Central is a resource for educators of children of all ages with special needs that offers assessment and intervention information and alternative resources for free.
Apps for special education teaching students and teachers allow you to be more effective and efficient from the palm of your hand. You can manage your classes, both as a student and a teacher, as well as look up resources and tips in a matter of seconds in real-time rather than having to wait until you are alone. And, perhaps most importantly, apps can help you determine the areas in which students are excelling and falling behind so that you can better customize your approach for each student while incorporating more engaging technology-based lessons.
Kahoot allows you to incorporate your teaching lessons into a game to make your material more exciting and engaging, which often helps the material to become more easily digestible and memorable.
Slack is used by all types of professionals and college students as a way to more effectively communicate with others including being able to send images, messages, channels, threads, and much more.
Doceri is specifically for iPads and offers a portable and interactive whiteboard that can be taken with you from home to the classroom and on field trips.
Dropbox is an ideal tool that allows people with all types of operating systems to share documents, videos, photos, and more with people using any other platform.
The Pocket app allows you to save content in offline mode and to present information, videos, articles, etc., in an easily digestible and viewable format.
- Teacher’s Assistant Pro:
The Teacher’s Assistant Pro app organizes all your critical student and classroom information in one easy-to-access and convenient location including behavior reports, email, accolades, images, teacher action, parent interaction, and more.
A teacher internship is referred to as student teaching, and student teaching is also considered part of the state’s teacher preparation requirements to complete your special education teaching license. Nearly every state and all reputable and accredited teaching programs at colleges and universities require teacher preparation in the form of student teaching to become a qualified teacher. If you are working to become a special education teacher, it is critical that you secure a student teaching position in a special education classroom.
It is still possible to become a special education teacher if you work in a traditional classroom setting. However, it will likely be easier to get a special education teaching position with a student teaching position specifically in special education. It might also help you negotiate a better salary. You can find these student teaching jobs through your college or university as they often have special relationships with local schools for just such occasions. You may also seek out your own student teaching position with schools outside of the pre-arranged list provided by your program but, if you are interested in doing so, you’ll need to start networking early.
Resources for Students and Professionals
Teaching Licensing Options
The licensure required to become a special education teacher will be different in each state. The type of license you require as a teacher will depend upon your education, number of years working as a teacher and for which of grade level you want to teach. In many cases, you might also require special education endorsements in addition to your state teaching license. These endorsements require you to demonstrate that you have the proper education and training to work in various sectors of special education such as PK-3 Special Education, Early Childhood Special Education, and Instructional Strategist I, II, or III. You should always check with the board of education in the state in which you wish to work,
but the type of teaching license you might have available to you include:
- Initial License
- New Teacher License
- Standard License
- Renewal License
- Special Educator License
- Master Teacher License
Be sure to check with your state education boards to determine the exact requirements for your future job opportunities.
Online job boards are a resourceful way to seek out part-time or full-time employment as a special education teacher. You might even find teaching or tutoring positions for children with special needs in a home or alternative teaching setting.
In some districts, teachers are in high demand. In other districts, teacher turnover is quite low. As a recent graduate, you might find that temp agencies and staffing or recruitment companies can assist with finding temporary work as a teacher more easily than finding full-time employment. It is also possible to pursue substitute teaching openings for most school districts. These may not even require a full teaching degree. This would allow you to gain valuable experience and make money as a student.
Temporary positions allow you to build up your resume and your teaching skills without having to commit to one school for years. You can also determine whether or not you enjoy working in certain environments and the types of special education classrooms you plan to enter after graduation. Look at temporary positions as continued education you get paid for without the regret of accepting a permanent job in a place you may not enjoy working in the end.
Resources for Education Professionals
Professional Special Needs Educator Associations
Professional associations and organizations are even more critical once you become a licensed special education teacher. These groups are advantageous to a professional for a variety of reasons. As a teacher, you will be required to complete a specific amount of career development hours each year to maintain your teaching license. Professional organizations and associations provide you with access to online and in-person career development opportunities, making your life exponentially easier.
You will also be able to network with other professionals. This can lead to better-paying jobs at more prestigious schools, invites to private events, and access to exclusive local memberships. As a member of such groups, you will also have access to the most current trends, tools, techniques, and more. And you can receive discounts on critical teaching resources, events, and continued education.
Special needs and special education journals are critical resources to help make you the absolute best special education teacher possible. They will keep you informed of the most relevant and effective teaching approaches, including tips, tools, and techniques. You can receive discounts to access these industry journals with certain memberships to special education and special needs associations and organizations. Certain journals are ideal based on your level of education and type of special education position. And, you should keep in mind that some journals are open access and are available to everyone for free. Others cost money either as an out-of-pocket expense to you, or your employer might pay for access. Here are just some of your options.
- Journal of Special Education
- Exceptional Children
- Remedial and Special Education
- Journal of Learning Disabilities
- Teaching Exceptional Children
- Learning Disability Quarterly
- Journal of Research in Special Education
- Intervention in School and Clinic
- Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
- Psychology in the Schools
Industry Conferences for Special Needs Educators
Special education and special needs educator conferences are a great way to remain up-to-date on the most relevant teaching and administrator approaches, techniques, tools, and resources. You will also be able to network with like-minded educators from all over the country and the world. These conferences and summits also allow you to meet parents and students from various types of classroom settings so that you can learn the way different methodologies work for real students and parents.
- Council for Exceptional Children Convention and Expo:
The CEC offers an annual event that incorporates technology, teaching sessions, student forums, learning labs, keynote speakers, and post-convention workshops for continued learning.
- Higher Education Consortium for Special Education Winter Summit:
The Higher Education Consortium for Special Education Winter Summit offers a convention for teachers, educators, and administrators of all levels, as well as policymakers, service professionals, advocates, researchers, and more.
- Closing the Gap Conference:
The Closing the Gap Conference is focused on assistive technology, strategic implementation, and classroom transformations for parents, teachers, clinicians, therapists, manufacturers, and end users.
- Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities Conference:
The Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities Conference is one of the largest of its kind that features over 200 presentation and lecture opportunities alongside pre-conference events, all of which may qualify for professional development hours.