My mother likes to tell a story during family get-togethers about when I was in elementary school. My grandfather endured heart problems ever since I could remember, and we visited him in the hospital quite often. My mom would go to visit him in his room, and while I was old enough to be left alone in the waiting room, I was not old enough to visit him in the intensive care unit.
I’m dating myself here, but when I was 10 years old, there was no such thing as the internet or a handheld gaming device. My entertainment consisted of books (which I loved), Highlights magazines, and making the acquaintance of friendly people in the waiting room.
One day, a young girl with multiple disabilities sat beside me, in a wheelchair. The way my mom tells this story, when she returned from visiting her father, there I was laughing and carrying on with the girl. The parents of the girl took my mom aside and remarked how kind I was to their daughter.
I wasn’t being kind to the girl because she was disabled; I just wanted a friend. If I were to observe my younger self now, I would recognize this interaction as a sign that becoming a special education teacher was my path. As a special education teacher, one of the first things you understand is that people with disabilities are just people.
Have you experienced something similar? Here are 10 more signs you should become a special education teacher.
Does the very mention of growth percentages, task analysis, and assessments perk your interests? A significant portion of the job of a special education teacher is taking and analyzing data. If you secretly loved your statistics course, this might be the job for you.
If you refuse to say the N-word, then you wouldn’t say the R-word. It is surprising how many people still use this archaic word to insult someone’s intelligence. Special education teachers don’t put up with it and will shut anyone down who uses it.
If you already know what IDEA, IEP, FAPE, AT, AAC, BCBA, and FERPA stand for, you are ahead of the game. As a special education teacher, acronyms will become part of your vernacular. You’ll also look for any way to be efficient with your words.
If there is no documentation, it was like it never happened. One of the first things I learned as a special education teacher was that making notes could be your best friend or worst enemy. If you excel at reporting the facts and leaving emotion out of it, this might be the perfect job for you.
Creating materials that are accessible to students with disabilities means you have to use velcro, that hard and soft sticky tape you’ve used to hang things on your walls. Special education teachers know that hours of their career will be spent cutting and assembling communication books and adapting assignments.
A skill every special education teacher will need to learn is to simplify instructions. If you know how to make complex or abstract ideas easier to comprehend, you might be the perfect candidate.
I’m naturally a disorganized person, but early in my teaching career, I realized I needed a system, or I would drown in paperwork. If your strengths lie in time management, fantastic! If you are like the rest of us, then find a system that works for you know and keep at it. Having an organizational system to handle your work email, calendar, and personal life will only help you in the long run.
Sometimes you are going to feel like the only one who is advocating for your students. That is because sometimes you are. If you are passionate about social justice and want to see how that plays out in the lives of your students, you are going to be a fabulous special education teacher.
Like to dress up as a pirate, the president, or your favorite book character? Teaching is an excellent gig for dress-up days.
I could have listed this one first because it seems like the most obvious. Let me be clear if you don’t like being around kids, find another profession. But, if your eyes light up when you see the smiles of young people or your heart swells with the sounds of a busy classroom, you’ve found the right job for you.
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