Special Education Teacher: What You Need To Know First
So! You want to be a special education teacher. Good for you. We need more men and women who choose to change the world by impacting young minds who learn differently. But, before you start to commit to this profession, I think you should consider the following:
1. You Will Be More Than A Special Education Teacher
There is NO such thing as just a special education teacher. Whether you like it or not, you will have to wear multiple hats. Not only will you be a teacher, but an advocate, coordinator, counselor, mentor, friend, coach, tutor, and when the situation calls for it- a parent. Depending on the culture of the system you work for and whether it’s a Title I or a suburban school, duty may call you to be just about anything. Prepare yourself.
Believe it or not, I had to advocate for my students when they were treated unfairly by other teachers and even the administration. Sometimes, I had to teach their parents how to advocate for their own student(s). Sometimes being a special education teacher means walking a straight line, being careful not to veer off for fear you hurt your students or your district.
2. It Can Be Stressful Being
I think it’s to be expected, that a little stress is found in most jobs nowadays – no matter how talented you are. The real key is knowing that it’s unavoidable and what you need to do to manage it. Although I love it and can’t see myself doing anything differently, working with students who have learning disabilities differences require more attention and patience than those without special needs. Like those who have Emotional/Behavior Disorders, anything at any time can set them off. Then there are my lovelies with ADHD. It can be enough to drive you right up the wall. It’s definitely a calling. The question is, “Are you called?”
3. There Is No “Typical” Student
I believe one of the most challenging aspects of being a special education teacher, is managing a wide variety of students and their unique differences. A child on the spectrum may require an entirely different approach to education than a student who is SLD (Specific Learning Disability). This requires one to be adaptable.
Just like any other students, our students come with their own personalities. No one student is the same, nor can we treat them the same. Different expectations have to be put in place based on the student’s unique differences. In special education, there is NO one size fits all.
4. Paperwork Is Maddening
Do I really need to say more? IEPs. Eligibilities. Re-evaluations. BIPs. Testing. Reporting. I think you got the picture. But before I go to the next one, do know all those have legal implications. Yea!
5. Switch Things Up Every Few Years
The best piece of advice that my college professor, Mr. Johnson, gave me was to plan to switch things up every few years. He said after 3 to 5 years move to some different aspects of special education. It could be from working with a class of self-contained students with intellectual disabilities to becoming a co-teacher. Maybe from high school to elementary school. It could mean moving to administration or transition planning. It really doesn’t matter as long as you keep it fresh.
As I reflect on my career, after about four or five years, I’ve always gotten restless and was ready for a change. I wanted to be stretched and challenged. So, Mr. Johnson’s advice has served me well. I believe it was this advice that has allowed me to keep teacher burnout (that is a real thing) at bay.
6. Know Your Why
Listen! Teaching isn’t easy. You often feel disrespected and of course, you aren’t paid enough. I often have to take the time to remind myself of my why. Why do I teach? Frankly, sometimes I forget in the midst of stress, frustration, and feeling unvalued. Despite everything that I’ve written, I don’t think there is a more noble and rewarding profession. I am truly a difference-maker as a special education teacher. My students are worth it!
Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you found it helpful. If you read my bio, then you know that I am Dyslexic. I work really hard to make make sure I’ve spelled everything correctly and written the word I meant. If you find a mistake charge it to my head and not my heart. Also, check out my video below. I explain my WHY. Why I am a special education teacher.