The term "middle school" generally refers to the level of instruction a student undergoes after elementary school and before high school. The designation can apply to different combinations of grade levels depending on the school district. In districts which have "junior high schools," for example, this level of instruction usually includes grades 7 and 8 or grades 7 through 9. Many school districts, however, define "middle school" as including the fifth grade through the eighth grade. Middle schools usually serve as a student's first introduction to a high-school environment in the sense that instead of teaching multiple subjects to the same students, the Middle School Teacher specializes in one subject and teaches this subject to different groups of students who rotate in and out of the classroom on a period schedule. A Middle School Special Ed Teacher has additional responsibilities which include instructing students with disabilities and special needs (known as Special Education Students) and closely tracking the progress of these students in all their general education classes.
There are many disabilities that may require students to be in special education programs. These include autism, language and speech impairments, mobility limitations, emotional deficiencies, visual problems, hearing impairments, and several other types of disability. In a middle school setting, special ed teachers can carry out their responsibilities in a variety of ways. Some of them teach classes comprised totally of special education students. Many serve the middle school they work in as resource teachers, providing specialized one-on-one help to students in general education classrooms. There are others who work in tandem with general education teachers in classrooms which include a combination of general and special education students.
The job responsibilities of middle school teachers are similar to those of high school teachers. The middle school teacher typically focuses on one specific subject (e.g., physics, history, biology, or English) using a combination of lecture and presentation to explore the subject in greater depth and detail than was done in elementary school. Like their high school counterparts, middle school teachers prepare lessons, administer and grade tests, and maintain classroom discipline. They also supervise extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs, and dances. Middle school special ed teachers do all these things and more. They need to develop and implement special strategies to deal with a variety of students having different handicaps. They also need to provide these students with assistance in the use of supportive devices. Among some of the other unique duties of special ed teachers are the following:
- Helping facilitate the placement of special education students into general education classes
- Conferring with parents, administrators, and social workers to develop educational plans for special education students
- Ensuring adherence of school staff to special education program requirements
- Making referrals to sources within the community that may be able to assist the student
- Helping design curricula modifications to accommodate special-needs students
Middle school special ed teachers are required to develop individualized education programs (IEPs) for each of their special education students. Each student's IEP contains personalized goals tailored to the student's individual learning ability and style. It is up to the teacher to monitor progress and ensure that the student's IEP goals are being addressed satisfactorily. In addition, teachers are responsible for developing transition plans to prepare special education students for high school.
Middle School Special Education Teacher Job Characteristics
Working conditions for middle school special ed teachers are generally similar to those of their general education counterparts in terms of work schedules and daily work environment. Most special ed teachers work in a classroom setting and although some of them work year-round, most work a traditional 10-month school year with summers off and holiday breaks. It is common for special ed teachers to work in excess of 40 hours a week, especially considering school duties performed outside the classroom.
Special education has its rewards and also its drawbacks. Working with special need students can be challenging and stimulating. There is often a great sense of accomplishment brought on by getting to know them and observing their progress. There can also be considerable stress brought on by the physical and emotional demands of the job as well as the job's burdensome administrative requirements. Special ed teachers are required to generate a substantial amount of documentation charting each student's progress and work. The school is liable for ensuring that correct procedures are always being followed in the administrative handling of special education students.
The general job outlook for special ed teachers is excellent. This is true at all levels including the middle school level. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS) forecasts that employment of special education teachers will increase at a faster rate than the average for all occupations over the next decade. There is a traditional shortage of certified special ed teachers in many school districts and this trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. The onset of advanced medical technology is allowing a higher than ever rate of survivability of accidents or illnesses whose victims will require special accommodations at the middle school level. Also, there is an increasing amount of legislation emphasizing training for individuals with disabilities. All these factors portend growth in the special education job market.
The extent of employment growth will vary by job specialty and by geographic area. Bilingual special education teachers, for example, will enjoy a high employment rate due to an increasingly diverse population of students. Employment prospects are expected to be significantly higher in inner cities and rural areas than in wealthy urban areas or in the suburbs. The demand for jobs is also expected to be higher in some parts of the country than in others. Areas where student populations are expected to increase the most, notably the South and the West, should generally yield the most lucrative job prospects.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Licensure is a requirement for special education teachers in every state in the U.S. License requirements vary by state, but traditional licensure usually requires at least a bachelor's degree plus completion of an approved training program in special education teaching. In many states the traditional licensure requirement is more stringent, calling for a master's degree in special education and training in a specialization such as learning disabilities or behavioral disorders. Teaching candidates in most states must also pass a professional assessment test. There are some states in which a special ed license is valid for a variety of disability categories; however several states require separate licenses to teach each specialty.
Due to the general shortage of special ed teachers, most states offer alternative licensure options which allow a quicker path to teaching. Most of these options require candidates to earn a bachelor's degree and then successfully complete a period of supervised preparation and instruction followed by an assessment test. Qualified candidates are issued a provisional license allowing them to teach under the supervision of licensed teachers for a period of 1 to 2 years during which time they are also completing required education courses. Upon completion of all requirements, the candidate is eligible to obtain a regular special ed teaching license.
Special education training programs are offered at numerous colleges and universities. Such programs, which usually last longer than corresponding programs for general education teachers, include coursework in educational psychology, strategies for teaching students with disabilities, and legal issues of special education. These programs usually culminate in a student teaching internship lasting up to a year, where the student works in a classroom under the supervision of a certified special ed teacher.
- Requirements for teacher licensure/certification by state
- National Education Association
- National Middle School Association (NMSA)
- National Center for Special Education Personnel & Related Service Providers
- Association for Career and Technical Education
- American Federation of Teachers
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
- U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics
Middle school special ed teachers are employed at middle schools in both the public and private sectors. Employment by public schools is predominant; over 90% of jobs in this profession are found there.
Schools for Middle School Special Education Teachers are listed in the column to the left.