7 Reasons to be a Special Education Teacher


For my first 8 years of teaching, I was a mainstream high school math and science teacher. I loved my job and the many, many students I'd see each day. It always surprised me each year how quickly I got to know each kid's name. But then the weekends would roll around and that stack of papers to grade! The grading always seemed so endless. Now as a special education teacher my stack of grading is so much more manageable. And that's not the only reason I love my job. Sure I write IEPs, schedule meetings and complete academic testing all on my free periods, but to me the benefits of being a special education teacher far outweigh the disadvantages. Here are my top 7 reasons why.


Reason 1: Really getting to know the kids
As a mainstream teacher I got to know my students, but no where near to the level I can as a special education teacher. Class size in my applied math classes is capped at 12 (and my actual class sizes are often much smaller). We all get to know each other really well. We know when one of us is having a bad day or got a haircut. We are family.



Reason 2: The curriculum is a little looser
In order to reach the needs of my students I am allowed to find creative ways to meet them where they are. We have math word walls, we play math games, and I am allowed to make whatever reference sheets my students need. We can take more time on a topic until every kid "gets it". I can assess in varied ways. We are not strapped to 'this topic this day' like I was in mainstream math. There is time to make sure each student is happy, learning and feeling successful. 



Reason 3: Parents see you as an ally
When I was a mainstream teacher I had some run-ins with parents over grades (usually that B+ that really should be an A+++). As a special education liaison I am an ally to parents. They call and message me when their kid is having trouble in a class. They look to me to edit their child's IEP to better help them access the curriculum. One of the best pieces of teaching advice I have ever gotten was "parents just want to know you like their kid". This is now the lens I look through when working with parents. I am their go-to person who helps their kids through school and it feels great to play that role.



Reason 4: Fix gaps in understanding (and anxiety)
If you were to come into my Algebra 2 classroom you'd often see me embedding Algebra 1 into what we are learning. Even though Algebra 1 is not taught in my classroom, we have an Algebra 1 word wall to link back to previous knowledge. Math weakness starts with anxiety, which comes from gaps in understanding. The curriculum moves so fast that an extended absence in 4th grade could have lasting effects, even into high school. We have the time in special education to identify, understand and fix these gaps. 



Reason 5: Varied Day
My days are never the same. Some days I am a math teacher first, other days I am a liaison first, most days I am balancing both hats on my head at the same time along with a thousand others. It's exhausting! But it's never, ever boring. For 3 years before starting my career as a teacher I was a "desk jockey". By 10AM I'd be staring at the clock wondering how I would ever survive to see 5PM. This never happens now. I love my job!



Reason 6: Less papers to grade
Grading papers, while insightful, is totally tedious. With sometimes 8 kids in a class my stack of unmarked papers is considerably smaller than it had been as a mainstream teacher. Where I used to robotically grade papers so that I could just please get them done, now I can take the time to think about my students' thinking so that I can plan activities that meet their needs. 



Reason 7: Getting a job anywhere
We all hear about teacher shortages but we also know how hard it it is to get that first teaching job. Referrals to special education are skyrocketing as more and more students are being edged out of finding success in school. With this comes more and more demand for special education teachers. Getting certified to teach special education students ensures you will always have a job. And that is a great feeling.

I once got the very bad advice not to get certified to teach students with disabilities because I would be "forever stuck as a special education teacher". I wish I had ignored that person sooner. Many of the techniques I use to reach my students are good practice to reach all students, even those without disabilities. What are the reasons you love being a special education teacher? 




2 comments:

  1. I loved reading this post of yours! Very inspirational unlike many other comments and posts I listen to or read, regarding special education. I too LOVE special education...much more so than general education for all the reasons you identified in this post! I worked as a Mod./Sev. Paraprofessional and am now taking the steps to become a Mod./Sev. credentialed Teacher! Thanks for the inspiration and positive outlook!

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    1. Congratulations on taking this next step in your career! Teaching Special Ed is hard (as you know) and only us Special Ed teachers really get how hard it is. But all in all, it's where I have found myself feeling like I am making the biggest difference. And there is no beating that feeling. Special Ed is the best!

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