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.
Before you make a commitment to this profession, I think you should consider not only the following 6 things to know before becoming a sped teacher but the skills needed to be a special education teacher in this day in time.
Things To Know Before Becoming A Teacher
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.
What am I talking about? We currently have a teacher shortage because of burned-out teachers. LOL!
Honestly, I feel the real key is knowing that it’s unavoidable and what you need to do to manage it. You are in control of how you manage it.
Although I love it and can’t see myself doing anything differently, working with students who have learning disabilities 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, however, 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. So it’s serious!
Bye the way, if you need to know more about IEPs check out my article.
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 anything 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!
If you would like to check out my WHY after you finish this blog, it’s attached below.
Skills Needed To Be A Special Education Teacher
If you really would like to be a successful special ed teacher, you have to have patience and be flexible.
In addition, you will need to be a great listener, understanding, and NOT easily offended.
Of course, you will need to know how to write so that you can write all those wonderful IEPs.
To me, these are the most important.
Here are a few more questions people often ask about special education teachers.
What Makes A Good Special Ed Teacher?
The best special education teachers are accepting and patient.
If you didn’t know, there is a special place in Jesus’ heart for special education teachers.
We are the ones that love on the least of these- making everyone feel special.
In closing, congrats if you are still reading this blog. Most likely that means you just might make a wonderful sped teacher.