In the US, a special education teacher is an instructor who is specially trained to work with students who experience a wide range of disabilities as specified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These disabilities often include specific learning disabilities, mental retardation, speech or language impairments, hearing impairment, or emotional or behavioral disturbances. Less often, the teacher will work with a student who has a condition such as developmental delay, autism, traumatic brain injury, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities. These teachers work directly with students, but may also work with a student’s classroom teacher, assisting him or her to adapt or modify the curriculum, adapt the learning environment, and make appropriate alterations to assessment.
A special education teacher usually forms part of a team of people who deliver special education services. He or she may work alongside a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, resource room personnel, instructional assistants, and others who help students with special needs. In particular, this person will form part of the team to plan and implement a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
For a person to work as a special education teacher, he or she must be licensed by the state he or she teaches in. Teachers may be licensed to work with children from kindergarten to grade 12, or for a smaller range of grades, for example elementary school or middle school students. Some states require that special educators first receive a qualification in general education before pursuing a special education license. In addition to state licensure, the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (AASEP) offers a Board Certification in Special Education (B.C.S.E.). The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) recommends this certification to its members.
In the course of a day, the teacher may work with several students who are in different grades and have very different needs. He or she may need to use a number of different techniques and approaches to make sure the learning and assessment that are needed take place. For example, a special educator may read aloud to one student, write for another, and help a third one practice some skill. In addition, each child’s program and progress must be carefully documented.