special education teacher

What does a Special Education Teacher do?

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A special education teacher helps students who have a wide variety of learning disabilities and challenges that include mental, emotional, and physical disabilities or other areas that make learning difficult. They adjust lessons in various subjects according to each child’s needs like reading, math, English, and writing. They use techniques in communication and literacy to those students with more severe disabilities. A special education teacher would need to meet with teachers, parents, administrators, and counselors to discuss the student and oversee teacher assistants that work with the student with special learning needs.

Watch a video to learn what a special education teacher does:

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

special education teacher

A special education teacher needs a bachelor’s degree in special education, elementary education, or a related field. Coursework usually focuses on disabilities, curriculum development, laws and regulations for special education, and how to present information that students can understand.

If a special education teacher is employed in a public school, they must have a state-issued license or teacher’s certification endorsed with special education. Those that work for a private school may not be required to have a license, but a bachelor’s degree is still required.

Job Description of a Special Education Teacher

A special education teacher works as part of a team that helps students that have disabilities that affect their learning. This may include mental, physical, and/or emotional impairments. Special education teachers adapt general education lessons on various subjects to meet the learning challenges of each student.

They also assess the skills of students to determine their level of need and create lesson plans to teach them in a way they can understand. Special education teachers develop individualized educational programs (IEPs) for each student. This organizes, sets goals, and assigns appropriate activities according to each students’ special needs. These teachers may instruct one-on-one, in a class, or in small groups. Special education teachers are also responsible to track each student’s progress, performance, and keep updated accurate records on each student.

These teachers can be found working in resource centers or classrooms that only include students with disabilities. However, at times they are also found in traditional classrooms as well. Here they help the regular teachers with accommodations and adaptations of their teaching techniques to ensure the students with disabilities’ needs are being met as well. The goal for a special education teacher is to prepare the student to make the transition from grade to grade and after graduation, sometimes up to 21 years of age. They teach academic skills, social etiquette, basic life skills, job skills, behavioral management, and emotional regulation to children with disabilities. Most work full time and in a school setting. They collaborate and work closely with parents, teachers, occupational therapists, support staff, and psychologists to support their student’s needs.

Special Education Teacher Career Video Transcript

With patience, resourcefulness and strong communication skills, special education teachers create a positive learning environment for students with special needs. Special education teachers work with students who have learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They teach reading, writing, and math, and for students with severe disabilities, they also teach communication and basic life skills.

A special education teacher begins by developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student, then implementing it and tracking student progress. Communicating with parents, counselors, other teachers, and administrators helps ensure they meet students’ needs. Tasks vary based on the student’s needs. Teachers might develop flashcards for a student with hearing loss, facilitate a small group to teach collaboration for a project, or create a quiet corner for students with autism. Many use assistive technology to communicate with students.

Most special education teachers work in public schools, with students ranging from preschool through high school. They generally work during school hours, following the traditional 10-month school year schedule. The work can be highly rewarding, but also emotionally demanding and physically draining. Special education teachers need a bachelor’s degree in special education or in an education-related field or a content area, such as math or science with a minor in special education. A license is required to teach in public schools. States may offer a general license in special education, or disability-specific credentials, such as autism or behavior disorders.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Special Education Teachers.

National Center for O*NET Development. 25-2052.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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