Nearly every state is reporting a shortage of special education teachers, and Texas is no different.
The U.S. government projects that special education teachers will continue to be one of the highest in demand teaching jobs across the nation. In Texas, about 1 of every 8 public school students require special education services, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Yet nationally, the number of special education teachers has dropped by as much as 17% over the past decade, according to an Education Week report. This sobering statistic, combined with the fact that Texas ended its special education cap in 2017, dramatically increased the demand for services across the state and has left many districts wondering how they will fill openings with qualified teachers.
Although private and state universities offer bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs in special education, choosing this pathway to certification isn’t for everyone. Even if it’s a dream to teach students, those who work full-time jobs, are serving in the military or have other responsibilities that require them to stay in one particular city do not always have the opportunity to drop everything and head back to college.
The need for flexible alternative online teacher certification programs that offer students the opportunity to earn their certificate in special education is significant. Here’s why.
Teacher Shortages Add To Classroom Pressures
Despite the growing need for teachers to work with special needs students, the state of Texas employs just 20,000 Special Education teachers, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Texas has the second-highest population in the nation, and by 2030, that population is expected to go from 29 million residents currently to nearly 35 million residents.
If more special education teachers are not hired to fill open positions, this shortage could lead to further pressures placed on classrooms throughout the state. Swelled classroom sizes, for example, reduce the amount of time teachers are able to spend individually with students. And for Special Education students, that can be especially harmful.
Districts know this scenario does not benefit students nor teachers, which is why many have begun working with alternative teacher certification programs to fill open teaching positions with qualified candidates.
These certification programs, once appropriate requirements are met, place teachers in the classroom as they earn their certification. In fact, in Texas, 49% of all new teachers are prepared through alternative programs.
Many districts contact ECAP, for example, throughout the year to ask for recommendations of students to hire. The availability of alternative teacher certification programs helps prepare more individuals for teaching in the field of Special Education, relieving some of the pressures classrooms across the state are experiencing.
Alternative Teacher Certification Programs Provide Opportunities
Special Education programs typically cover several impediments to learning. They are designed for students with disabilities or developmental delays. Special Education services are available at all grade levels, from elementary education through secondary education.
Because of this, Special Education teachers have a unique opportunity to work with students who may need more specialized attention. This can be a rewarding and life-changing experience for both the teacher and students.
Alternative teacher certification programs provide students with the opportunity to realize this rewarding experience, along with several other benefits that include great pay and loan forgiveness.
Though salary varies by district, the median annual wage for a Special Education teacher was $59,780 in May 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Texas, average salaries in July 2019 ranged from $42,183 to $66,505.
In 2019, all teachers saw a boostin minimum pay in Texas under a new bill signed into law as a way to keep Texas school districts competitive with other states in hiring qualified teachers, especially in in-demand areas such as Special Education.
Because the state has designated Special Education as an official area experiencing a teacher shortage, Special Education teachers also may be eligible for loan forgiveness.
Flexibility Is A Must To Fill The Ranks
Texas needs Special Education teachers. Offering students options to realize their dream of becoming a teacher, whether through a traditional degree in special education or an alternative teacher certification program, can help meet the needs of school districts across the state.
Alternative teacher certification programs, in particular, are especially appealing to those who already have a bachelor’s degree, professional experience or a combination of education and experience.
Whether it’s an individual with a full-time job, a member of the military taking the next step to secure a career upon retirement, or a parent looking to return to the workforce, alternative teacher certification programs are a pathway to success - and an important resource for districts that are struggling with filling open Special Education positions.
That’s because alternative teacher certification programs offer flexibility, a growing commodity in today’s busy world.
The best programs allow you to complete your coursework around your schedule, whether you’re at the dining room table, coffee shop or library, and when you want, whether it’s morning, afternoon or night.
Online course availability also allows you to take advantage of courses offered anywhere in the state (without the commute).
This flexibility is critical in attracting highly qualified and talented Special Education teachers to the ranks, and securing the futures of students in Texas.
In addition to flexibility, the best alternative teacher certification programs also provide continuous support, offer opportunities for hands-on learning, and allow you to have face-to-face interaction with your peers and professors, which encourages you to develop relationships and professional connections.
The need for Special Education teachers in Texas will be significant for the foreseeable future.
With alternative teacher certification programs, there is a path for you to realizing your dream of becoming a Special Education teacher and meeting an important need in the state.
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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