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Career Story: Elementary School Special Education Teacher

Elementary School Special Education Teacher

Job Title: Special Education Teacher Consultant/Resource Teacher

Type of Company: I am the Special Education teacher for an elementary school in mid-Michigan.

Education: BS, Education of the Mentally Impaired, Indiana University of Pennsylvania •• MA, Elementary Education, Michigan State University •• Reading Recovery Teacher Certification, Oakland University (Rochester, MI)

Previous Experience: I taught mentally impaired elementary students in Harlem for two years. I have taught mentally impaired and learning disabled students in Michigan at all ages, from high school to kindergarten. I was an elementary school principal from 1984 to 1995. Now I teach several children on the autism spectrum as well as learning disabled students.

Job Tasks: I am the Resource Teacher, so all of my students are already placed in a regular general education classroom, and I pull them out for direct, small group instruction in Language Arts (reading, comprehension, writing, grammar) or Math. I usually work with a small group on specific objectives for 30 minute sessions throughout the school day. I am also the case manager/consultant for our students with autism. I check in with their teachers and their teacher's aides, attend monthly TEAM meetings for each student and contact their parents following the monthly meetings that we hold for each child.

There is a tremendous amount of paperwork involved with Special Education and it is my responsibility to schedule the required meetings and come prepared with all of the necessary reports and proper forms. Many of these meetings involve individual educational plans: the IEPs, as they are known, that have to be drafted for every special ed. student. These are considered legal contracts and have to fit defined guidelines, which change frequently.

I also meet regularly with parents and the other service providers, like the speech and language therapist, the occupational therapist, the physical therapist, a visual impairment consultant, autism consultant, etc. It is usually my responsibility to arrange for these meetings and to keep the minutes from them. Because of all of the paperwork, I spend a lot of time at my computer.

The most important part of my job, though, is actually teaching my students with very special needs. That is my reward for all of the record keeping and paper work.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The very best part of this job is working with my students. They present me with challenges every day, which means that my job is never boring. I have many opportunities to grow professionally, which then helps me do a better job with my students.

Many people in this job find the paper work and scheduling to be the worst part. I personally rather like to do it, though finding time to devote to it is sometimes a source of frustration.

Job Tips:
1. I believe that anyone who wants to be a teacher must also want to be a learner.

2. Although teaching well requires the ability to organize and be structured, teachers really must know how to thrive in a certain amount of chaos. Nothing in education ever stays the same, so you must be willing to grow.

3. If you are a control freak, you should really not go into education. You need to have a certain fascination with children and a willingness to give them the best you have to offer. Teaching can and should be fun.

Additional Thoughts: I have been teaching for 39 years, and I still love it -- every day! A wonderful thing about teaching is that you actually have two new years. There is the one on January first, and there is the first day of each new school year. Watching children grow and progress is very fulfilling, and makes me want to keep learning and growing so I can provide exactly what they need to continue to grow and progress.

If you really like people, like to learn, and you are willing to work very hard and to be very flexible, Special Education (or education in general) is a very rewarding career. It is not especially well-paid, so the rewards really have to be intrinsic.

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