Teachers who dedicate their lives to helping children with learning, physical and emotional disabilities discover a challenging yet rewarding career. All educators must be detail-oriented, organized and confident, but special education teachers possess an extraordinary combination of character traits that help them become inspirational role models. In addition to being accepting, even-tempered, adaptable, optimistic and encouraging, the best special education teachers have these five qualities:
Working with students who have diverse physical, emotional and mental challenges requires a teacher to have patience for each child’s behavioral and learning abilities. A calm and encouraging nature is necessary for diffusing the frequent frustrations that come with mastering ordinary simple tasks. Special education teachers also need to be flexible when faced with disruptions, flexible in helping students overcome personal challenges and able to adapt their teaching techniques to encourage different learning styles. Developing coping techniques can help teachers avoid the stress and burnout that often occurs in special education classrooms.
Children with special needs often have difficulty recognizing and expressing their emotions and realizing that other people in the classroom have feelings too. In addition to being awkward communicators, common etiquette is a concept that is hard for them to grasp. Students frequently demand personal attention and struggle to work well with others. By carefully observing the dynamics of the classroom, a special education teacher is able to identify the emotional source of a particular behavioral problem. Teachers should also be empathetic when working with parents, who are likely struggling to understand the best way to support their child’s disability.
Creativity is an essential character trait for special education teachers. The job requires resourcefulness in adapting general lesson plans to meet the needs of non-traditional students. Basic skills and difficult concepts need to be simplified and delivered using engaging methods that every student can grasp. Teachers must also be able to present the same information in various ways to cater to different learning styles. Additionally, a requirement of the job is designing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to help each student achieve their own learning objectives.
4. Collaborative Communicator
Educators in special ed programs work in close-knit teams to help students master skills, cope with emotional issues and build relationships with others. Collaborations between teachers, teacher assistants, psychologists and social workers is common, making strong oral and written communication skills a vital part of the job. Special education teachers must also actively work toward building a rapport with students and cooperative relationships with parents. It is often necessary to serve as an advocate for special needs students with the school and district administration as well as with other teachers if the student rotates through mainstream classes.
5. Service Oriented
People who have a predisposition for being helpful, considerate, attentive and cooperative are already prepared for the demands presented in special education classrooms. An innate concern for others and a passion for helping sustain a special ed teacher through the stressful moments of the position. The most successful educators are able to offer encouragement when students feel defeated and celebrate small achievements as major victories. Above all, a genuine love for children, an unwavering joy for teaching and a service-oriented attitude are essential character traits for the job.
Special education teaching positions generally require a bachelor’s degree and specialized endorsements. College candidates can either major in special education or earn a minor that focuses on specific disabilities, such as autism or learning disorders. The Occupational Outlook Handbook expects the need for special education teachers to grow, particularly as the nation increases its focus on early childhood intervention.