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Career Spotlight: The Role of a Special Education Teacher

Learn about the role of a special education teacher and the rewarding aspects of working in exceptional student education with a degree from Saint Leo University.

A photo of a special education teacher involved in exceptional student education writing on a whiteboard in a classroom

One of the most important decisions you can make when pursuing an education degree is the students you want to help educate most. This can help you choose the degree program that is best aligned with your career goals. Maybe you want to work with young children, for instance. In this case, you likely want to pursue your degree in elementary education. If you’d find joy in working with students a bit older, a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (with a specialization in English or social science) may be a better choice.

Another option that allows you to work with students in both age ranges is special education. It’s often said that “some see the disabilities, but special education teachers see the possibilities.” If this describes you, an exceptional student education program may be the right choice for you.

What Does a Special Education Teacher Do?

Special education teachers, also referred to as special needs educators, work with students who have a variety of educational challenges and needs. Thus, an important function of this role is to consider each individual student’s abilities and educational barriers, then create a learning environment that provides them the highest possible chance of success.

A special education teacher might work with students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, students with sensory impairments, speech difficulties, and more. Each of these students may require a slightly different approach to help them learn the information being taught, also considering the level of severity of their condition. That’s the role of a special education teacher: to figure out what approach works best for that student, then to create a curriculum that effectively delivers the educational information.

Other duties often assigned to a special education teacher include:

  • Developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student
  • Assessing student performance and progress, and
  • Preparing the student to transition from one grade to the next or for their post-graduation life.

What Is Involved in Working with Students Who Have Special Needs?

Because special education students have varying needs, special education teachers generally have smaller classroom sizes. This enables them to provide more attention to each student, giving them the specialized guidance they need to learn the information being presented.

Depending on the student, the use of special tools or equipment may be required. If a student has a hearing-related disorder, for example, special education teachers may need to use sign language or Braille to communicate. If the student has a sensory processing disorder, the use of noise-muffling earplugs or headphones may be appropriate to keep from overwhelming them auditorily.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that possessing certain skills can help increase your success as a special education teacher. These skills include:

  • Being a good communicator, both with special education students and their support systems
  • Thinking critically, so you can assess and adapt each student’s lessons as needed
  • Having strong interpersonal skills, creating positive relationships with the student, their support systems, and other educators
  • Exhibiting patience, which can help you stay calm when teaching students with behavioral challenges or other difficulties learning the materials presented
  • Being resourceful, enabling you to draw on a variety of available resources to better meet each of your student’s needs

How to Become a Special Education Teacher

To work as a special education teacher in a public school, a bachelor’s degree or higher is required. Private schools generally have this same requirement.

Although, earning your master’s degree provides a greater breadth of knowledge and skills from which to draw when working with special education students. For instance, in Saint Leo University’s online education master’s program with a concentration in exceptional student education, you will take courses such as Theories and Methods for Mild to Moderate Populations, Managing Students with Exceptionality, and Collaborating in Inclusive Settings.

Saint Leo also offers three different exceptional student education tracks. One track is for those who want to increase their knowledge of working with special education students, one track is for those already teaching who wish to seek their certification in exceptional student education (ESE), and the third track is for those who already have their ESE certification and are seeking a higher level degree.

If you’re ready to get started, you can begin your Saint Leo application online. You can also call (877) 622-2009 and speak to our knowledgeable and compassionate staff, all of whom are ready to answer any questions you may have about this education degree track. Contact us today to learn more.

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