A special education teacher works with children who have varying levels of disability. These disabilities can be physical, cognitive, or emotional in nature. With this variety of challenges comes a wide variety of teaching methods. It is the job of the special education teacher to develop individual education plans (or IEP's) that address a particular student's challenges and special needs, so that the student can meet or work towards meeting the general education requirements for their grade level.
A special education degree can specialize in areas such as early childhood development, or adolescents with special needs. A degree can also be specialized to focus on the severity of a disability, or the type of disability. Even if you choose a specialization, your degree program will cover teaching techniques and strategies for all types of disability.
Online programs in special education are available. A bachelor degree is typically required to obtain a teaching position. A master degree or at least one year in graduate level study is preferred for most positions. It is important to note that, although most of your degree can be taken online, most states require a period of student teaching (or practicum) as part of a degree program in order to be considered for a teaching position. When you are researching an online program, it is important to research your options regarding student teaching and keep in mind that at least some of your time will be spent in a classroom as a student teacher.
Those who work in the field often say that they have a very rewarding position, and feel that the work they do makes a difference in people's lives and improves society. However, it is also challenging and can be frustrating at times and coping methods need to be used to avoid burnout. Special education teachers are educators, but they are also advocates for their students in many ways. The current trend is for students with special needs to be mainstreamed into traditional classrooms as often as possible, and it is up to the special education teacher to determine if the environment is working for a particular student, come up with creative ways to help and speak up if the student's education needs are not being met. Also, education for special needs students is most successful when interaction and work at home mirrors interaction with work at school. This requires the teacher to work closely with parents, to help them develop a consistent experience for the student. Those who are called to this type of work acknowledge the challenges, but agree that the changes and growth they see in their students makes it worth every moment of hard work.