Things You’ll Learn Working with Students with Special Needs

Master of Education in Special Education with a Preliminary Ed Specialist Credential: Mild/Moderate with Internship Option (California)

One of the richest rewards of working in special education is knowing you’ve made a big difference in students’ lives. It’s a heartwarming victory to watch a special needs student learn something new and see a broad smile light up their face from greater self-esteem and confidence. Granted, as a teacher in this field, you’ll face frustrations and stress that require a particular kind of focus and patience. But working with students with special needs will also give you a sense of accomplishment like none other.

At National University, we take great pride in offering future educators an opportunity to learn more about special needs students and what they can expect working in this field. We believe in being prepared, so to give you a better idea of what the road ahead may look like, here are things you’ll learn working with students with special needs.

Working with Special Needs Children

As you work in special education, you’ll learn brand-new life skills — from a greater sense of patience and the ability to wear multiple hats to managing behavioral issues and handling extra paperwork. Here are a few examples.

– You Must be Patient

You’ve heard the old saying, “Patience is a virtue.” In special education, it’s a must. Working with special needs students requires a strong sense of understanding and acceptance that everyone’s needs are different and that each person requires their own sort of attention.

Imagine this scenario. A student asks for your help completing a task. As you offer this student your one-on-one attention, your other students become disruptive, vying for your attention as well. This pandemonium can be highly stressful, and the best way to decompress is to remain calm, put out one fire at a time, ask for assistance if you have a teacher’s aide, and use your best time management skills to get your class back on track

– You’ll be a Jack of All Trades

Your job as a special educator will require familiarity with all types of disabilities. There’s no such thing as a “typical” student, so you’ll interact with students with a wide range of personalities and developmental struggles. Meanwhile, you’ll wear multiple hats as a teacher, counselor, support system, and event coordinator.

At the end of the day, parents may consult with you about concerns or issues they may be experiencing at home. Because many parents lack the specialized training you’ve gained over the years, they may lean on you for guidance through difficult situations.

By being aware of the multiple roles you’ll play, it will enhance your ability to switch gears and adapt.

– Use Correct Language

In careers that work to help people with disabilities, certain words are taboo. To avoid marginalizing or dehumanizing people, one approach is adopting a person-first language that puts a person before a diagnosis, describing what condition a person “has” rather than asserting what a person “is.” For example, “The boy has Down Syndrome.”

A newer approach places identity with the disability at the forefront of the conversation. Identity-first language has become a mainstream practice among disabled communities. For example, members of the autism community prefer terminology such as “autistic person” or “autistic individual.”

Because both approaches are used, it’s important to know which one your students and parents prefer to help you become a better leader and advocate in the long run.

– Prioritize Behavioral Issues

It can be easy to get caught up in odd behaviors or outbursts in the classroom. According to one estimate, on average, 144 minutes per week of instructional time is lost in classrooms because of behavior disruptions. Special education teachers must master classroom behavior management to become effective. One trick is to prioritize behavioral issues into certain levels of importance and acceptance.

For instance, at times, it may be best to overlook a student’s mildly disruptive behavior to avoid taking time and energy away from a more pressing situation. Prioritizing behaviors is a great way to keep the pace of your instruction moving, knowing you can always discuss your concerns with parents and students individually afterward.

– You Will Have Lots of Paperwork to Complete

One of your main responsibilities as a special educator is to create individualized educational plans (IEP) for students with disabilities. Aside from grading papers, creating homework assignments, and developing lesson plans, IEPs require extra time to prepare and review since each one is specifically designed to challenge and improve a single student’s educational performance.

While a regular K-12 teacher has the luxury of standardized tests and textbook guidelines, special education calls for unique lesson plans and performance reviews that will then need to be presented to parents and possibly school boards. Once you accept that your job requires time for additional paperwork, it will make those long nights at the printer much easier.

– Every Student is Unique

Special education teachers create IEPs for their students, acknowledging each is unique. Students come from all walks of life, each with a different set of challenges and struggles, with the support of a family that’s different in their own way.

Throughout your special education career, you can’t assume that one student with Down Syndrome will behave the same way as another. Instead, it’s your duty to take the time to learn about their challenges, set a course of action, and guide them to the finish line. Doing so will undoubtedly make a lasting change in your students’ lives as well as instilling a sense of confidence for many years to come.

– You Won’t Be Bored

Like other classroom teachers, you’ll have a schedule to follow as a special education teacher. And yet every day is different as you meet the academic, physical, and emotional needs of your students. On one day, you may be collaborating with reading specialists and speech-language pathologists to create lesson plans. The next day you may be communicating with parents and guardians about your student’s progress. With each day bringing its own unique rewards and challenges, you’ll never be bored.

– Special Educators Are in High Demand

Overall employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, about 37,600 openings for special education teachers are projected each year over the next decade. The median annual wage for special education teachers was $61,820 in May 2021.

– Enjoy the Journey

Although a career as a special educator has its difficult moments, there is a deep sense of fulfillment as you recognize the impact of your teaching on students in need. Whether it’s the satisfaction of helping a student give a presentation or encouraging them to try something new, it’s the small achievements along the way that add up to huge successes in the end.

Toya S. - Class of 2019

National University Can Help You Prepare

Now that you’ve learned more about what it’s like to be a special educator, you may have decided it’s a great fit for you. It’s good to know a special education degree or special education credential from National University will prepare you for this career. NU offers four options:

Your program of study will provide you with cutting-edge techniques and methods of understanding, based on a foundation of compliance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA/IDEIA). This set of standards aids in protecting and supporting students with disabilities, and National University is a proud champion of implementing best practices, while paving the way for further innovation.

NU professors have a wealth of knowledge to offer their prospective students, so contact the admissions office today to learn more about our programs. To speak with our admissions team, call (855) 355-6288 or request information, and an advisor will contact you shortly. If you’re ready to apply, start your application today.

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