In today’s current economy, more people are turning to teaching as a source of stable income. With most states having some sort of alternative certification program, and large cities offering competitive salaries, many are making the switch. I have always told people that I think that teaching life skills is one of the best kept secrets in education, however, it is definitely not for everyone. Becoming a special education teacher is a rewarding career, but not for everyone. Evaluate a few of the following points when making your decision.
Can I be a mult-tasker? Each child in the classroom will probably have a different disability, different accommodations, and a different way of communicating what they know. They should also have different IEP goals. This means that lesson planning takes on a whole new meaning for you. You may have one student signing responses while another uses an augmented communication device, and yet another uses picture communication. If this was a restaurant, regular teachers would provide a menu, but you provide a buffet!
Do I like to manage other people? Paraprofessionals or assistant teachers help manage the physical and education needs of the children in the classroom. While many times a tremendous blessing, sometimes they can also be more a source of stress. If you are hesitant to be able to give direction or hold others accountable, then this may not be the position for you.
How do I feel about performing some medical procedures? Many students in a life skills setting have physical needs. As a teacher you may be called upon to assist with bathroom needs, feeding, or administer medication. Seizures accompany many disabilities, and you will need to receive training to administer certain medication in case of an emergency.
Can I handle children with behaviors? Even physical behaviors? The purpose of life skills education is to help students function in society as independently as possible. Unfortunately, many students in a life skills classroom are going to have behaviors that are inappropriate for school or work. These behaviors may include throwing fits or physically injuring themselves or others. A child may get angry and try to hit you. Is this something you will not only be able to handle, but are you willing to help the child find alternatives to these behaviors?
Can I handle answering to multiple people? When I first started teaching life skills, I naively thought I would answer to my principal and for the most part I was going to manage my own classroom, on my own. Special education teachers however, answer to their principal, special education directors, specialists, and parents. Parents are usually a blessing but some can be difficult. Either way, you will need to treat them professionally, and consider what they have to say.
How do I feel about paperwork? Sometimes, I feel that instead of a teaching degree, what I really needed was a law degree. As a special education teacher, you will fill out piles of legally binding paperwork and take part in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) planning process for each student. You will need to keep accurate documentation about everything you do. This beneficial by protecting you, but also helps you in seeing how the child is progressing.
Teaching in a life skills classroom is rewarding. Despite many of the negative aspects that I discussed above, helping children accomplish goals in spite of their disabilities is truly worth it all.