If you have decided to begin a journey toward becoming a special education teacher, you have a rewarding future ahead. However, there’s likely not a single educator who doesn’t wish they would have done something differently along the way.
Here are six do’s and don’ts that will help you begin your special education teacher career on the right note.
Becoming A Special Education Teacher: 6 Do’s And Don’ts
|Choose A Program That Reflects Your Learning Style||Follow A Chronological Timeline|
|Keep An Open Mind Of What Your Teaching Experience Will Look Like||Overlook The Importance Of Your Advisor|
|Get To Know IEPs||Delay Pursuing Your Certification|
As educators, we have to do our fair share of learning ourselves. We know that our students have different learning styles, and as students, we do as well.
One of the most popular ways to earn your Texas teacher certification is through an educator preparation program. In fact, nearly half of all new teachers in Texas school districts earn their certification through these alternative programs. They are a great pathway to earning your certification if you have a bachelor’s degree in another field besides education.
However, while the Texas Education Agency has a list of requirements these programs must meet, not all of them offer the same format for teaching. For example, while some alternative teacher certification programs are fully in-person, others are 100% online.
So which is best? It depends. Both in-person programs and online programs offer a number of benefits. In-person programs offer the opportunity to collaborate with other interns and develop professional relationships with teachers. Strictly online programs can’t always replicate the type of experiences and opportunities for immediate feedback that in-person programs offer.
On the other hand, online programs typically offer better course availability, more flexibility around your work hours or personal obligations, and overall greater convenience.
Your learning style may better align with one of these two options, but choosing a certification program that offers instruction BOTH online and in-person can offer the best of both worlds. You get the convenience of online courses that allow you to study on your own time, while the in-person aspect of learning offers an invaluable experience that you simply can’t get over the computer.
With any major life or career change, it often feels “right” to follow a chronological timeline to hit your goals. However, when it comes to earning your special ed teacher certification, following a rigid timeline that only has you taking one step at a time will likely prolong the process.
After you enroll in a certification program, there are a lot of moving parts that happen simultaneously. That’s because there are multiple components to a program. At ECAP, the process is divided into three categories: Training, Testing and Teaching.
It’s important to think of these three components as teaching rings. As an intern, you will have to fulfill 300 hours of training, complete tests and include at least one content exam and a pedagogy exam, and teaching experience … all into one school year. As you move closer to meeting all three of these goals, each circle closes.
The best certification programs have interns work on these components simultaneously. This design provides teacher interns with a comprehensive approach to learning and allows them to complete the program more quickly. On the other hand, a chronological timeline creates issues, including unnecessary delays.
Whether you’re in a private school or a public school, as a special education teacher, you’ll likely be tasked with creating a positive learning environment, providing direct instruction and applying a variety of special educational skills and techniques to reach students with special needs in different ways.
However, your teaching experience may look different than another special education teacher’s experience.
For example, as a special education teacher, you may provide one-on-one tutoring. Or, you may teach in a specialized classroom with a low student-to-teacher ratio. Your position may also require you to work alongside general education teachers to assist an assigned student in a general classroom.
Who you work with may vary as well depending on the needs of students in your elementary school, middle school or high school. While some special education students may have physical disabilities or an impairment that requires assistive technology to learn, another student may have learning disabilities and require more individualized support and accommodations.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) breaks disabilities into 13 categories:
Your responsibilities as a special education services teacher may change as new students are assigned to you. While some of your duties will remain the same, such as implementing the IEP of a child, your teaching experiences will likely vary from school year to school year, and even day to day.
The Texas Education Agency requires that every intern is assigned a field advisor. However, how this rule is carried out varies from program to program.
At ECAP, interns are assigned a field supervisor from the same pool of supervisors who service our internship and probationary certificate holders. Here’s why this is particularly important.
As part of the state’s teaching credential requirements, interns must complete 300 hours of training, and of those hours, 30 must be dedicated to observation by a teacher adviser or in a classroom environment. These 30 hours of observation are a very important part of your certification process because these certified teachers send a recommendation to your credential program that you are ready or not ready to teach in the classroom.
ECAP has former principals, vice principals and teachers who have extensive experience in helping aspiring teachers through this process. NOT ALL PROGRAMS DO THIS. Some simply send past teachers who are ex-students of their program to evaluate interns. This does not ensure the teachers, meaning you, are fully prepared to teach, placing the future success of your teaching career at risk.
Among your special education teacher responsibilities is developing and implementing a student’s individualized education program, or IEP. An IEP is a legal document that helps determine the exact mix of general and specialized education a student should receive.
As you train to become a special education teacher, it’s a good idea to begin familiarizing yourself with the IEP process. IEPs are a roadmap to student success. They address a student’s current level of performance, any specific and measurable goals for the child, and how service will be delivered to help a student achieve those goals.
Not only will you use the IEP to help guide you through your role in the process, but other intervention specialists and educators who work with the student will also use it as well. Therefore, drafting and implementing an IEP is a collaborative effort. You will work with a committee of educators, social workers and other experts, along with the student’s parents, to draft the IEP and update it throughout the year based on the student’s progress.
To create and maintain an IEP, you will perform routine assessments of a child’s skills, both academically and socially.
As part of the certification process, you must take a certain number of exams. If you’re considering becoming a teacher in the state of Texas, it’s important to know what could be on the horizon for these testing requirements.
Currently, all student interns must take and pass at least one content exam in the subject area you want to teach. The TExES content exams are available in more than 60 specialties and are generally broken down by subject or grade level. You can explore the different exams in our article, List of Texas Teacher Certification Tests: What You Must Take To Teach. If your goal is to become a special education teacher, you should take the Special Education (Grades EC-12) content exam.
However, you are not limited to one content exam. You may take more than one if your goal is to get a multiple subject teaching credential. Other content exams that may complement the Special Education content exam include American Sign Language or Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments.
There are additional certification exams you may or will need to pass as well. These include:
Here’s where things become a little murky. There may be some changes to certification exam requirements on the horizon that’s important for all prospective interns to know about.
The Texas State Board of Education tried to replace the PPR with a new requirement called the edTPA, a more strenuous exam that would have made it more difficult and costly to become a teacher. The board ultimately rejected this testing requirement, but there could be additional testing changes in the pipeline.
If you are considering becoming a special education teacher, now is the time to take advantage of the current certification requirements in place. If you wait another year or two, you may face more difficult barriers to earning certification.
Special education teachers are in high demand, and the job outlook is positive. While this works in your favor, it’s critical that you have a good understanding of the field and the tools you need to be successful. A high quality educator preparation program can help prepare you for the challenges you face while helping you build a foundation for future success.
Topics: Becoming A Teacher
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.
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