Career Story: Fourth-Grade Special Education Teacher

Fourth-Grade Special Education Teacher

Job Title: Special Education Teacher

Type of Company: I work for a school district in northern Virginia.

Education: Masters of Education

Previous Experience: As part of my graduate studies I did a one-year internship. Half of the year was spent co-teaching at an elementary school focusing on elementary education. A quarter of the year was spent focusing on elementary learning disabilities and the last quarter was focused on high school special education.

Job Tasks: I am a special education teacher. I generally work with small groups of students who respond best to specialized instruction. At least four days a week, for example, I convene a group of eight fourth-graders and work with them to improve their reading comprehension and writing skills. Since they've all been identified as having learning disabilities or other special needs, I will sometimes have to go back to very basic reading skills like phonics and the materials I use are often things I've found on my own.

In the afternoon, another group of eight gets together in my classroom for math. This is a little more challenging. Many children with learning difficulties have never learned "number sense." They're befuddled by concepts like "more" and "less"; some can't even tell time. A lot of these children have memory issues, too; so imagine trying to get them to memorize their multiplication tables! And how do you divide if you don't know multiplication? Or do long division when you have short-term memory issues? Many of my students are allowed to use calculators. We try not to encourage this, but when they're asked to take tests, there is little alternative.

Standardized testing! Not much fun when you are working with children like these, who, thanks to "no child left behind" legislation, are required to take the same tests as un-disabled children. Remembering a year's worth of math, and using it on a standardized exam, is very hard for children with dysfunctional memories.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is getting to make a difference. I work with children who really need me.

The worst part of my job is the standardized testing that children with disabilities are required to take because of "no child left behind" and other federal and state regulations.

Job Tips:
1.) Get a Masters Degree. It only takes a little bit longer and it makes a big difference.

2.) Take as many courses and read as much as you can about all kinds of disabilities.

3.) Use the internet and make technology your friend. The majority of schools use a lot of technology. My school gives every teacher a laptop computer. Most of our classrooms have Smart boards and projectors.

Additional Thoughts: Teaching is a wonderful and rewarding career. You won't get rich at it, but I really don't think of the money. To be very honest, I am married and my job is a second income. Teaching is a great career for anyone who wants to make a difference. It's also wonderful for anyone with children. You have all holidays and summers off. Teaching really is fantastic!

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