What Special Education Teachers Do
Special education teachers may teach students in small groups or on a one-on-one basis.
Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They adapt general education lessons and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math, to students with mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques, to students with severe disabilities.
Special education teachers typically do the following:
- Assess students’ skills to determine their needs
- Adapt general lessons to meet the needs of students
- Develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each student
- Plan, organize, and assign activities that are specific to each student’s abilities
- Teach and mentor students as a class, in small groups, and one-on-one
- Implement IEPs, assess students’ performance, and track their progress
- Update IEPs throughout the school year to reflect students’ progress and goals
- Discuss students’ progress with parents, other teachers, counselors, and administrators
- Supervise and mentor teacher assistants who work with students with disabilities
- Prepare and help students transition from grade to grade and for life after graduation
Special education teachers work with general education teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents. Together, they develop IEPs specific to each student’s needs. IEPs outline the goals and services for each student, such as sessions with school psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers. Teachers also meet with parents, administrators, and counselors to discuss updates and changes to the IEPs.
Special education teachers’ duties vary by the type of setting they work in, students’ disabilities, and teachers’ specialties.
Some special education teachers work in classrooms or resource centers that include only students with disabilities. In these settings, teachers plan, adapt, and present lessons to meet each student’s needs. They teach students in small groups or on a one-on-one basis.
In inclusive classrooms, special education teachers teach students with disabilities who are in general education classrooms. They work with general education teachers to present information in a manner that students with disabilities can more easily understand. They also assist general education teachers in adapting lessons that will meet the needs of the students with disabilities in their classes.
In addition, special education teachers collaborate with teacher assistants, psychologists, and social workers to accommodate requirements of students with disabilities. For example, they may have a teacher assistant work with them to provide support for a student who needs particular attention.
Special education teachers work with students who have a wide variety of mental, emotional, physical, and learning disabilities. For example, some work with students who need assistance in subject areas, such as reading and math. Others help students develop study skills, such as highlighting text and using flashcards.
Some special education teachers work with students who have physical disabilities, such as students who are wheelchair bound. Others work with students who have sensory disabilities, such as blindness and deafness. They also may work with those who have autism spectrum disorders and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Special education teachers work with students from preschool to high school. Some teachers work with students who have severe disabilities until the students are 21 years old.
Special education teachers help students with severe disabilities develop basic life skills, such as how to respond to questions and how to follow directions. Some teach the skills necessary for students with moderate disabilities to live independently, find a job, and manage money and their time. For more information about other workers who help individuals with disabilities develop skills necessary to live independently, see the profiles on occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Special education teachers must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. Most use computers to keep records of their students’ performance, prepare lesson plans, and update IEPs. Some teachers also use various assistive technology aids, such as Braille writers and computer software that help them communicate with their students.