I’ve been in the special education business for more than 15 years as a teacher and school leader, and if there’s one thing I’ve heard over and over it’s, “I don’t know how you do it.” My immediate reaction: I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. And, with the wisdom from my years in K–8 education, I can confidently say that special education is the best gig out there. Here’s why:
1. More one-on-one time
I teach in a resource room, so my groups range from two to 10 students throughout the day. This means that I get to have more one-on-one conversations, share more jokes, and get to know my students’ thinking more than I would if I had them in a full classroom setting.
2. The best group of kids ever
I don’t choose my caseload, but no matter what school I’ve been in, I always end up with the kids who are the quirkiest. The ones with the most out-of-the-box ideas, the most curious interests, and the most interesting behaviors.
3. Constant opportunities to practice patience
When I tell people that I teach special education, often the first thing I hear is, “Oh, you must be so patient!” The truth is I’m not that patient because I know my students need to learn a lot, and fast. I do have mad ignoring skills and an appreciation for the quirky kids (see above). Still, it’s nice to be seen as a model of serenity.
4. Superpower problem-solving skills
Students with IEPs come with their own unique concerns, from out-of-the-box behaviors to delays in reading and math. I get to be as creative as I want in identifying and solving academic, functional, and behavioral problems.
5. Lots of laughs
It’s hard to surprise a special education teacher—we’ve seen everything. Combine that with the good sense of humor that seems innate to the special educators that I’ve worked with, and you have the perfect go-to colleague for a good laugh after a hard day.
6. Helping parents navigate the system
When parents receive a referral for special education, it’s both a blessing (finally, we’re addressing the problem!) and a concern (what does this mean for my child?). Leading IEP meetings that help parents understand what special education is and how it will benefit their child is rewarding in unique way.
7. All the data
Now hear me out on this one. I know data isn’t usually at the top of the list of teachers’ favorite things. But I get data from all over the place—evaluations, progress monitoring, formal and informal assessments. And I love to see all the ways my students grow all laid out in numbers and charts. It makes it easy to spot improvements that a standardized test can’t capture.
8. Being part of multiple teams
Not every teacher gets to be on every grade level team at once, but I’ve been on every team from K–8, often in the same school year. That means more work friends, more camaraderie, and a better understanding of what’s happening across the school.
9. A chance to work across the school
Speaking of working in multiple classrooms, when I work with teachers to modify lessons for my students, I get to see what’s happening in other classes, which constantly gives me new ideas. There’s nothing like watching a great teacher in action, and as a special education teacher, I get to be inspired every day.
10. Nothing but respect
When you tell people you teach middle school, you get street cred. Tell them you teach middle school special education, and you get nothing but respect. Perhaps it’s because people don’t know how sweet middle schoolers can be or they don’t realize how great it can be to help kids through this important life stage. Whatever the reason, I’ve gotten many a deferential nod when I tell people what I do.
11. There’s a place for everyone
Special education is a field with many niches. I work in a resource room, but special ed teachers can work in self-contained, home-bound, and other settings. It’s awesome to be part of such an inclusive community.