Education is one of the most rewarding professions. Special education is particularly rewarding. The joy you feel when a person who is having problems makes some progress is unmatched in any other field. But to be a special education teacher takes a special type of person. It not only requires special training, one must also be very patient and love people no matter what their special needs. If you are the type of person who combines all these elements then a career in special education could be for you.
To teach special education you must be licensed. Getting a license requires you to have at least a bachelor’s degree and complete an approved training course in teaching special education. Some states require a master’s degree. Acquiring the training is not very difficult. Many colleges offer undergraduate, graduate and doctorate level courses in the field. Teachers who want to focus on special education often have to complete longer periods of training than teachers in other areas. You can choose to specialize within the special education field or you may pursue general special education training. The last year of training usually entails working in a classroom under the supervision of a certified teacher.
Teachers wishing to work in special education often receive general training and must then receive further training in a particular area that prepares them to work with people with physical, mental or emotional difficulties. Depending on the state in which you live or hope to work you may be required to be licensed to teach people with a wide range of disabilities or one of the many different subsets within special education. You should contact the board of education in your state to find out their specific requirement for certification.
There are alternate routes to a career in special education. Some states allow people with at least a bachelor’s degree who receive supervised training through a college or an accredited program, teach under supervision for 12 to 24 months and pass an assessment test to be certified. Many of these alternative certification classes are designed to encourage people without a traditional teaching background to enter the profession. These non-traditional teachers may bring unique talents in art or music which they attempt to use to reach out to students who traditional teaching methods have been unable to reach.
But teaching those with special needs requires more than academic training. It takes dedication to master the craft. There have been many instances where people with excellent teaching credentials and a genuine interest in helping special needs students have been unable to succeed when they try to work in special education. Working with people with special needs can frustrate even the most well-meaning individuals. Some come into the field with unrealistic expectations of the impact they can have on the students they work with. Often the pace of learning is glacially slow or the students and the new teacher fail to connect for whatever reason.
Some new teachers fit right in. They are able to reach the students and help them to make remarkable strides. Other new teachers are just naturally patient and accept the pace at which their students learn and are satisfied when the students make incremental progress. Occasionally there are special education teachers who are able to make major breakthroughs. They may have a natural feel for the classroom and the students or are able to create innovative ways to reach the students and help them to make real progress. Their new techniques can then be shared with others in the field.
Patience, creativity, organization, the ability to accept and understand the differences in others and the ability to motivate people with special needs are essential for a successful career. Often teachers who are able to identify, appreciate and celebrate small victories with their students find it easier to work with students with special needs. But there are no hard and fast rules. Teachers must know the basics of education, but to be successful they must also be perceptive and, above all else, patient.