Teaching special education is an important and fulfilling profession, but it’s one that presents its share of challenges. In fact, many special education teachers find themselves suffering from “burn-out” in relatively short order. About half of special education teachers will leave the profession within the first five years of their careers, and that number goes up to 75 percent after about 10 years.
If you feel called to become a special education teacher, don’t let yourself become a statistic. Know what challenges you can expect to face and what personal qualities and traits make a good special education teacher. Special education teachers must meet the needs of students with a range of very different disabilities, and they must also juggle complex scheduling, aide management, paperwork, data collection, and other tasks without a lot of public or parental support. A good sense of humor, patience, confidence, creativity, dedication, and optimism can all come in handy in helping your students meet their educational goals.
Challenges You’ll Face as a Special Education Teacher
If you want to enroll in an MS in Special Education program, it’s useful to know what challenges you’ll face once you have your degree in hand and you start your first day on the job. In fact, many teachers earn their master’s degrees while working in their chosen profession, so you may gather firsthand knowledge of the challenges inherent in teaching special education before you even earn your master’s degree.
Special education teachers face many of the same challenges that all teachers face, like a lack of appreciation from members of the general public, parents who don’t really value education, and low salaries. But they also face some struggles unique to special education teaching.
For example, special education teachers often must coordinate their students’ lessons with general education teachers, and this can mean negotiating a schedule with a dozen or more people. Other challenges special education teachers face include hours of paperwork specific to teaching special needs students, working with and training teachers’ aides, and collecting and compiling information about student progress and growth.
Personality Traits that Will Make You a Good Special Education Teacher
People who succeed in the long-term as special education teachers generally possess a specific set of character traits that help them face the challenges of the profession while remaining upbeat, optimistic, patient, and supportive of their students. A good sense of humor and an even temperament are two of the most important traits you can possess as a special education teacher. Good humor helps you take the challenges of the profession in stride while still having fun with your students and enjoying them for who they are as people. A calm, level-headed temperament helps you keep your cool in a crisis, and it’s also essential for dealing with difficult students who may have severe disabilities or emotional problems.
A successful special education teacher must be naturally good at staying organized in order to handle all the administrative and other responsibilities of the job. You’ll need to have a fair amount of patience in order to work with students who may struggle to learn even the most basic tasks and life skills. You’ll need to be tolerant and able to accept special needs children with all their quirks and flaws. You’ll also need to have a thick skin, since special needs students may make unkind remarks or behave in other ways that are emotionally hurtful, especially since these students may not have the maturity to grasp how their words or actions can make others feel.
Confidence, creativity, a strong sense of intuition, and optimism are also essential. In order to stay in control of a special education classroom, you can’t second-guess yourself. You’ll need to use your intuition to communicate with many students who may have handicaps that make interacting difficult. You’ll need to be creative in order to come up with new ways to make the subject matter interesting and accessible. And you’ll need to be optimistic so that you can continue to encourage students and nurture their own hope and confidence, even when they’ve been struggling at something for a long time.
Special education teaching is a rewarding vocation, but it takes a unique kind of person to be a special education teacher. With the right combination of humor, patience, creativity, confidence, and optimism, you, too, can enjoy a long and satisfying career as a special education teacher.