Job Title: Special Education Teacher
Type of Company: I work for a public school district in a suburb approximately 25 miles west of Boston, MA.
Education: BA, Education, Boston College M.Ed., Special Education, Framingham State College
Previous Experience: I began my teaching career right after college, working as an inclusion teacher for two different first grade classrooms. Most of my day was spent co-teaching in the general classroom, but I did do a small amount of "pull-out" service. I then taught at two different schools in the same district for a year, working as an inclusion teacher for a second grade class and later performing evaluations, running meetings, and providing services to kindergarten students in a very small school. The year after that, I worked for a few months as a half-time inclusion teacher in a third grade classroom.
Job Tasks: I currently work as a special education teacher in a multi-age program for students in grades three, four, and five. Our program contains eight classrooms; students from all three grade levels are in each room. There are children with disabilities, mainly learning disabilities and attention deficit problems, in some of those classrooms. These students are in a full-inclusion program, and I spend most of my day working in tandem with their regular teachers to provide them with instruction in language arts and math. I do see some students, in small groups, outside of the classroom for even more specialized instruction.
My job involves a lot of paperwork. Each of my students has an "individualized education program" which I have to draw up, and each IEP specifies annual objectives that the students are expected to meet. They also explain how best to accommodate the students' special needs in the general classroom. We hold a meeting each year with the students' parents to review these plans and draft updated new ones.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job, by far, is the students. I get to see them make progress over the course of three years. By the time they leave our program, I know them extremely well and I can clearly see the progress they have made. It's a great feeling to know that I had something to do with it! I also love that my job is never boring. The days fly by, and the only reason I find myself looking at a clock is to make sure my students get to their next class on time. I also enjoy the fact that I am not sitting at a desk all day. Most of my day is spent running from one place in the school to another - it's great exercise!
The worst part of my job is the paperwork. There is a lot of federal paperwork that is necessary for all students in special education. This paperwork is vital to my students' education and they would not make the progress they do without it. However, it is very time-consuming and it is difficult to find time to fit it in on top of planning lessons and correcting papers.
Job Tips: Even if you don't think you want to be a special education teacher, it is a good idea to take at least a few courses in the subject beyond what might be required in your general education program. If you can become certified in special education, that's even better. You will be much more marketable when looking for a job. If you do enter the field of special education, ask other special education teachers for help! I had no idea how to write my first IEP, or how to handle scheduling issues, among many other things. Without the help of my colleagues, I'm not sure I would have made it through my first year.
Finally, take advantage of any workshops or training that your school district offers. I have been trained in a variety of reading, writing, and math programs. It's useful to have as many tools as possible when working with students with disabilities. What works for one doesn't always work for all.
Additional Thoughts: I love my job. I don't think many people can say that, but I honestly can. It is a lot of work and can be exhausting, but the rewards far outweigh those things. I think the ideal career is one where you look forward to going to work each day. I can truly say that I am happy to be at work most days that I am there.
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