A bachelor's degree in Special Education can sound somewhat intimidating if you do not know anything about disabilities or what it takes to teach those who have them. Special education truly is a vast subject and that is why we want you to be well informed as you enter into this high-need job field. Here are 5 things we think are important to know about a career in special education!
#1 There are more options than teaching!
Yes, the most common outcome of a special education degree is to be a special education teacher, but there is more you can do. If you decide that school is not your favorite setting, consider being a direct support professional or a transition specialist. Direct support professionals (DSP) are individuals who work often one-on-one with people with disabilities to help them become more involved in the community or more independent in their living. In addition to being a DSP, you might consider continuing your education and becoming a behavior analyst, diagnostician, or administrator. There are many possibilities for you with a degree in special education outside of being in the classroom.
#2 Differences between mild/moderate and severe
BYU offers two different emphases within special education: mild/moderate or severe. You will learn more about the differences and have experiences in both during the introductory course CPSE 203, but here is a quick rundown. If you think of a self-contained classroom, that is more along the lines of severe. If you think of students with higher functioning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD, that is more along the lines of mild/moderate. Many students with these types of mild/moderate disabilities will be in a general education classroom and you provide support to them either in the classroom or in a resource room. Both emphases are wonderful and bring their own unique rewards and challenges so we invite you take CPSE 203 to learn more about which path is right for you!
#3 Settings outside of a contained classroom
Being a special education teacher is more than teaching in a self-contained classroom like many people imagine. Here are some of the following options for special education teachers:
Self-contained classroom: teaching students in a classroom separate from students without disabilities, typically with the assistance of 1-3 paraprofessional teaching aides
Resource classroom: individual and group pull-out instruction with students who need additional assistance outside of the general education classroom; the most common subjects taught in a resource classroom are math and language arts
Inclusive classroom: a general education classroom with a few students with disabilities included/mainstreamed into the class full time
Specialty schools: schools that are designed specifically to helps students with disabilities in general or sometimes specific disabilities, such as ASD, visual impairments, or deaf-blindness
Assisting general education teacher: working alongside a general education teacher in the classroom to help students in inclusion/mainstreaming with the concepts they need additional assistance with
#4 Legal obligations
It is important to note that there are a lot of legal obligations for special education teachers. However, don't be alarmed! There are systems set in place to help you succeed as an educator while still meeting what is required by the law! Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student in special education is entitled to an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Along with IEPs comes legal obligations to abide by each accommodation listed in the plan and providing the tools necessary for each child to succeed. Even if a student does not have an IEP, you may work with students with 504s, a plan designed to accommodate students, but it does not change the educational standards that need to be met. To learn more about the legal obligations for special education teachers, click here. You will learn how to help these students meet their IEP goals in your special education degree. You can do it!
#5 Qualities that are needed/need to be learned
There are certain qualities or skills (which can be learned) that will help you in your career in special education! Here are just a few that you may not have thought of.
Multitasking: While you are instructing the classroom, individual students may need assistance. Multitasking allows you to continue teaching while still providing individual students with the help they need.
Organization: With all of the paperwork and forms for your students, organization will be key to reducing stress in your classroom and for your meetings.
Flexibility: You never know what to expect during the day in a special education classroom. Flexibility will allow you to continue teaching your children even when you are not able to deliver as a lesson plan as you may have expected.
Love: Many people think of patience as a necessary skill to be a teacher, and although patience is helpful, love is what you really need. You need to love your students and love what you do because some days are tough, but it is so worth it if you love it.
To learn more about the special education program, meet with an advisor in 350 MCKB or meet with our special education student ambassador.