Careers in Special Education

The following career information is taken from the National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education.

What do special education teachers do?

Special educators are highly trained professionals who provide specifically designed instruction and services to children with disabilities. They adapt and develop materials to match the special needs of each student and use a variety of teaching strategies to ensure that students with disabilities reach their learning potential.

Special education professionals are:

  • creative problem solvers
  • masters of learning styles and teaching strategies
  • team players
  • intelligent, organized, and flexible
  • lifelong learners
  • prepared to meet the challenges of their profession with confidence and enthusiasm

Trained to look beyond students' disabilities to their potential, special educators can make a real difference in the lives of their students.

Where do special educators work?

Special educators work in many different environments. A small percentage work in private schools, residential facilities, hospitals and clinics, or in the students' homes. The majority, however, work in the public schools. Within these schools, special educators work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Self-contained classrooms--Only 20% of students with disabilities spend the majority of their school day in a classroom specifically set aside for children with disabilities.
  • Resource rooms--Most special education teachers work in resource rooms, where they provide specialized instruction to students with disabilities who come in for part of the school day, either individually or in small groups.
  • General education classrooms--An increasing number of schools are using an inclusion model, in which students with disabilities receive most, if not all, of their instruction in a general education classroom. In these settings, special educators work closely with general education teachers to meet the needs of the students.

Why should YOU consider a career in special education?

  • You want a career that allows you to help others. Being a special educator allows you to make a positive difference in the lives of children with disabilities. With the help of special educators, an increasing number of children with disabilities have been succeeding in school and enrolling in college.
  • Being a special educator gives you the opportunity to use many talents and skills creatively and to grow both professionally and personally.
  • The need for special education professionals has never been greater. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the need for qualified special educators and related service personnel will increase "faster than most other professions" in the next 10 years. And the U.S. Department of Education reports "The number of students with disabilities served under IDEA continues to increase at a rate higher than both the general population and school enrollment." In Wisconsin, there is a strong demand for special education teachers. 
  • The personal rewards of educating children and youth with disabilities is greater than you can ever imagine.

What issues should I consider in terms of deciding which of the special education program options to pursue?

The Special Education Department offers three licensure options for undergraduate students:

  1. Cross Categorical Special Education Only
  2. Dual--Regular Education (grades 1-8) and Special Education (grades 1-8)
  3. Dual--Regular Education Early Childhood (Birth-grade 6) and Early Childhood Special Education (Birth - grade 3)
  • You should first consider what age children with disabilities you want to teach. This will help you decide if you want to enter the early childhood special education or cross categorical.
  • The Cross Categorical Special Education Only program has fewer total credits to degree.
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