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12 Skills Of A Special Education Teacher

Becoming A Teacher

Micah Fikes
Micah Fikes on March 28, 2022

Special education teachers require exceptional qualities to succeed in the classroom. 

An essential part of any school district, special education teachers work with students who require extra assistance in the classroom because they face mental, emotional, learning or physical challenges. 

Some children's challenges require teachers who possess many essential skills that help them blend specialized coaching with standard classroom instruction. While teachers may develop these skills while training to become special education teachers, they may possess these skills as inherent parts of their personalities.

There are 12 skills that most special education teachers need to be successful in the classroom. They are:

  • Ability to Adapt
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Heightened Communication Skills
  • Compassion
  • Assessment Skills
  • Practical and Theoretical Knowledge
  • Excellent Listening Skills
  • Creative Organizational Skills
  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Professional Work Ethic
  • Trustworthiness



1. Ability To Adapt



In many school districts, the placement of special education students in general classrooms means that teachers mustskills of a special education teacher adapt to a teaching environment that may change daily. A special education teacher must understand how to modify traditional generation education curriculums and instructional techniques to accommodate the individual needs of their children.

Special education teachers must also remain aware of how their students may benefit from changes in curriculum delivery. For example, in an environment where a child requires additional time to read the assignment, the teacher may reduce the length of the reading assignment.

Another option might include a change to the difficulty of the reading material for a student who possesses a more severe learning disability. A special ed teacher must remain aware of each student's individual needs throughout the school year and continuously adapt the material to ensure the student benefits from an inclusionary classroom.



2. Collaboration Skills



A research article published in Intervention in School and Clinic (ISC) shows that students benefit most when special education teachers and their general education peers work together. Collaboration between special education and general education teachers is vital within inclusive models of education.

One of the inherent benefits of collaboration for special education teachers is the concept of "two heads are better than one" for problem-solving. Teachers may collaborate on lesson plans and work with parents and caregivers to extend the benefits of collaboration beyond the classroom.

According to an article from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, collaboration increases the performance of the 20% of students who possess attention and learning issues. An example of beneficial cooperation would occur when a special education instructor with expertise in literacy works with a general education teacher to create lessons that support students of different reading levels.



3. Heightened Communication Skills



Employers often list communication skills as a necessary attribute in job descriptions for all sorts of industries, but communication for special education teachers is more complex. For example, a special ed teacher might need to focus on nonverbal communication and exaggerated gestures to improve connections and meet the needs of students.

All teachers' most critical communication skills include listening, reading, speaking, and writing, but special education teachers must pay extra attention to each of these concepts. Examples include nodding and pointing when communicating with a child, which can increase the impact of a verbal conversation in the classroom.

Children in special education classes or inclusive classrooms may also benefit from multiple forms of communication during a lesson. For example, an instructor might include a visual aid for the special needs students that increases the effectiveness of the lesson's verbal communication.



4. Compassion



Compassion takes many forms in life, but the concept can prove exceptionally beneficial to students who have experiencedskills of a special education teacher frustration in a special education program. A compassionate teacher can help special education students accept that they might need additional time to conquer certain lessons.

Compassion from a teacher may also positively influence general education students in the classroom when they interact with a special education student. According to an article published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, the first instinct in humans is to cooperate rather than compete.

In the classroom, a special ed teacher might foster compassion in their students by encouraging students to help one another during small group interactions. In an elementary classroom, compassion in teaching may lead students to help one another on their own before the teacher even asks.



5. Assessment Skills



Assessment tests like achievement tests, intelligence quotient (IQ) tests, and behavior rating scales can help teachers assess their special education students. 

These formal assessments in special education may occur before, during and after the school year. They can help educators modify or enhance their lessons to ensure individual students receive the maximum benefit of classroom instruction throughout the year.

Special education teachers may also benefit from taking classes in clinical psychology, school psychology and psychoeducational assessment, which can help teachers develop assessment skills that aren't directly related to a test like an IQ test or an achievement test.



6. Practical And Theoretical Knowledge



Education is not a static environment. The theoretical and practical knowledge special education teachers gain as they earn their degree is only the start of what a special ed teacher needs to ensure the best outcomes for their students.

As time passes, special education teachers must remain aware of new advancements and theories in education and special education. New advancements develop new insights and teaching methods that might not have existed when they started their teaching careers.

An article published in The Journal of Special Education called "Ecological Theory and Methods for Research in Special Education" indicates that naturalistic research and observation in the special education classroom is an essential part of improving student outcomes.

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7. Excellent Listening Skills



Listening skills are a requirement for virtually every job, but listening skills for special education teachers possess particular value.

According to an article published in the journal Intervention in School and Clinic called "Teaching Listening Skills in the Special Education Classroom," the most common activity for students in school is listening.

This goes both ways, as a teacher’s ability to connect with individual students is often based on the educator’s ability to recognize a child’s needs and listen to parents’ concerns. When a teacher possesses excellent listening skills, the teacher can lead by example and help children develop this important life skill.



8. Creative Organizational Skills



Organizational skills are beneficial in virtually every classroom environment, particularly in a special education class.skills of a special education teacher

An article published by a researcher at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls called "Organization in the Classroom" indicates that the physical set-up of a teacher's classroom is vitally important for creating stability in the school.

A cluttered classroom may make it difficult for students of different abilities to concentrate on their lessons. Optimizing the classroom's usable space through the careful organization of physical objects like desks and instructional materials can reduce the inherent chaos in the classroom.



9. An Extra Dose Of Patience



In a special education classroom, a teacher may face significant variance in each child's learning abilities. Special education teachers must create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for their students, but may have to update expectations when students require additional time to complete work or gain a full understanding of a particular subject.

An article published in the Association for Middle Level Education Magazine indicates that patience in education is important because creating lessons that build on previous knowledge is only possible when the student has understood and stored the initial knowledge necessary to grasp increasingly advanced concepts.



10. Perseverance



A Forbes Magazine report indicates that one in three teachers are leaving their jobs after just five years in the classroom.

The unfortunate effect of the high turnover rate of teachers is that school districts must hire an increasing number of non-specialist teachers to fill staffing needs. In special education, untrained teachers may face significant challenges in understanding how to work with children with disabilities.

Special education classrooms require exceptional perseverance from teachers who dedicate their careers to the education of children with disabilities.



11. Professional Work Ethic



A special education environment often comes with challenges that aren't present in standard education classrooms.skills of a special education teacher Maintaining professionalism and maturity is an essential characteristic for a special education teacher.

Many unfortunate stereotypes exist about special education students in public schools. However, professionalism in the classroom can help build a respectful environment that helps students build self-confidence in school, as well as at home and outside school.



12. Trustworthiness



Special education teachers often operate relatively autonomously, which means they have an exceptional need to maintain trustworthiness with their students, parents and guardians, and peers. 

Failure to maintain trustworthiness places the educator at risk of losing the ability to maintain their students' health, safety and welfare in a manner the teacher personally considers most effective.



A Great Responsibility



Educators who choose special education as their focus have an incredible responsibility to their students and communities. The right teaching credential programs are essential in helping new teachers build these 12 necessary skills.

Finding a beneficial teaching credential program means finding one that offers in-person training opportunities, is respected in educational circles and fits well with a future teacher's employment goals. The most beneficial programs also offer personalized timelines, base their instruction on a full-circle approach, and offer a program approved by the state's education agency.

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Topics: Becoming A Teacher

Written by Micah Fikes

Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank. In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.