The Special Education Profession

This article is based on interviews with special education professionals and what it takes to succeed as a special education teacher.

Persons who desire to become special educators do so for numerous reasons. Whether making a decision to become a special educator as the initial step into the educational system, or move to special education from the ranks of general education, the teacher that chooses this field is best served knowing his or herself well, and be willing to commit to an increasingly challenging but rewarding profession. Experienced teachers may opt to leave the classroom for an administrative position and some advance to become Principals. Recent interviews of three special educators, two general education teachers and one elementary school principal were conducted. This was done in order to further understand what educational professionals think is necessary for a meaningful, worthwhile teaching and learning experience and how that relates to the teachers’ philosophy of education. The interviewed professional would be queried about why he or she first became a teacher and why continue in the profession today. Teachers were asked about and delighted to relay the most rewarding and challenging teaching experiences. In addition, each was given the opportunity to speak about what changes he or she would like to see in education today.

While exploring what constitutes a meaningful and worthwhile teaching and learning experience, every interviewee commented on the need for educators to connect with students. Making teaching relevant and having the ability form a partnership with the student in his or her learning experiences were listed as keys to a positive teaching experience. Understanding the student as a whole person while being able to work with families and collaborate with other professionals were included in the discussion. General and special education teachers alike cited the need for teachers to be knowledgeable in the subject matter and be proficient in the ability to adapt curriculum in order to engage the students on an individual level. Part of the challenge for teachers is continual attempt to find which will draw the child out enabling him or her to connect with the subject matter presented. Not surprising, the principal interviewed as well as the educators all spoke of the desire to see many aspects of growth in the students they serve. Social, academic and emotional development was mentioned by each professional. The special educators in the group each spoke of the need for the teacher to demonstrate the unique ability to work with multiple para-educators as well as colleagues such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and manage complex schedules on a daily basis.

Speaking in regards to personal philosophy of education, the Principal began with her opinion and was subsequently repeated by many of the teachers. The teacher must believe the student can learn, students must be involved, a total partner in the progression, and the process must be collaborative. Additionally, teachers felt students should come to school ready to learn and teachers should come to school ready to work hard to meet the student where he or she is at in the learning process. There must be a desire to see success for every student. One special educator spoke about respecting the values of the student and being equipped to give the student what he or she needs. Another special educator explained about how important it is to give students roots. She went on to say that teachers must make learning fun so that students want to come to school. Making students lifelong learners was a theme throughout the answers about teacher’s philosophy.

The final question posed to the teachers and principal interviewed was, “What would you like to like to see changed in the profession and why?” Three of the six professionals, including the principal, voted for year around school. Four of the six declared there must be a pendulum swing back to a focus on vocational skills at the secondary level. Everyone had some degree of belief that the “system” of education is not working for the students as one educator put it, “We have built a system around our needs, not the needs of students.” The special educators have a strong desire for more inclusive practices and believe overwhelmingly that if done correctly inclusion is a win-win proposition. This sentiment was echoed among general educators and the principal with a unanimous agreement that inclusion must be done correctly and with appropriate support and funding.

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