What is a Masters in Special Education?
Special education is a type of education for students with special needs. Special education is more individualized in that different students have unique needs that must be assessed by an educator. Therefore, individually-planned lessons, accessible settings, and other interventions designed are needed to help each student. There is a wide range of special needs that different students have. Some of the most common includes challenges with learning, communication challenges, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders.
A master’s in special education is a degree program that equips teaching professionals with the fundamental skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to teach special needs students. Usually degree programs only accept students who already have teaching degrees, and occasionally only accept teachers who already are involved with special needs students. All states require teachers to be licensed with a completion of a special education teacher-training program. Master’s programs will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of developing the potential of students with disabilities. Master’s degrees also involve research-based theory and instructional practice for meeting the diverse needs of their student population.
There are many online programs that are both full-time and part-time. Full-time programs last two years with up to 50 credits of classes. Curriculum usually involves core classes of advanced coursework, as well as specialized electives and individual plans of study that allow opportunities for advanced certification. A list of potential courses within a masters in special education curriculum include: Fundamentals of Special Education, The Inclusive Classroom, Literacy and Content Skill Development, Special Education Processes, Emotional and Behavioral Support, High Incident Disabilities, Teaching Students with Low Incident Disabilities, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Integrating Technology for Learning, Methods and Practices in Special Education, and others.
Working with special needs students can be challenging; therefore,you must be patient, able to motivate students, understanding of students’ special needs, and accepting of differences in others.
Types of Degrees and Specializations for Master’s in Special Education
There are a few different degree types that you can with a master’s in special education. A few of the different degree titles you can receive include:
There are also specializations that exist for students who want to individualize their education a bit more. Different areas of concentration may include:
- Autism: This program focuses on preparing students to work with and teach children or adults with autism. The number of children diagnosed with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome has increased drastically over the past decade, and therefore there’s a high demand for professionals who are trained in this specific area. Curriculum within this concentration usually provides knowledge and skills for working with these students. Effective teaching methods, interventions, and support will also be emphasized.
- Technologies for Special Education: Educational professionals who work with children with disabilities need to be highly trained in technologies, as many recent developments in technology can really enhance and create accessible learning opportunities for children with disabilities. Those seeking additional expertise in the area of educational and assistive technologies can use this concentration to become a more skilled profession.
- Languages and Cultural Issues: Students with disabilities come from diverse language and cultural backgrounds, and therefore there needs to be teachers with the ability to help teach these diverse student populations. This concentration provides methods for teaching linguistically and culturally diverse groups of children who have or are at risk for having disabilities. Often these programs include coursework from ESL (English as secondary language) departments.
- Self-designed concentrations: There are often opportunities to self-design your concentration to fit the particular population you would like to serve. These populations may include deaf or blind students who may show signs of autism or other learning disabilities, or programs for children with mental capabilities to learn at a standard pace, but are disables by physical impairments such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. If you know the area of concentration you would like to study, it’s important to explore different school’s programs to make sure you can study what you want to study.
Job Opportunities for a Master’s in Special Education
Excellent job prospects are expected due to rising enrollments of special education students and reported shortages of qualified teachers. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that between 2008 and 1018, special education teachers and educators will grow by 17%. Among the areas growing the fastest are autism and early childhood development. Many students who pursue a master’s degree in special education go on to get their PhD, while others choose other careers that can be obtained with master’s degrees in special education. Some of these careers include:
- Special education teacher: Many schools both public and private have teachers who work exclusively with special education. Usually these teachers work with small groups of students at a time, outside of their regular scheduled class time. Sometimes special education teachers are employed by school districts and therefore must travel between multiple schools working with children of special needs. With a master’s degree in special education you may be required to create general lesson plans for teachers of various grade levels, which then target what learning objectives should be mastered by students. Special education teachers also will make accommodations and modifications for lesson material that is used for students. This ways special needs students can still learn the material, but in a format that is accessible to them, or at the level of mastery that the student can understand.
- Special education curriculum and textbook writer: This position calls for people who have previously worked in education and have their master’s in public education. Creating workbooks and learning material for special need students that coincide with regular textbooks is the main area of work for special education textbook writers. Again, a special education writer must make accommodations and modifications to regular material, making the material more accessible and at the level of learning that special needs students can understand. For example, special needs materials may have bigger print or fewer words—stories, such as within a history lesson, may be made shorter and easier to read. As technology becomes the norm in the classroom, this position may also involve meeting with web developers to create intriguing, educational online tools for special education students.
- IEP Teacher: This stands for an individualized education program teacher, who work at one school or travel throughout a district to offer one-on-one education for special needs students. Depending on the specific program set up, a student may meet with an IEP teacher 2 or 3 ties a week so that student can receive individual attention to excel through a specific topic or subject. The remaining days of the week that student works in a standard classroom with other students. Usually an IEP teacher will specialize within a certain learning disability such as autism, blind and dear students, or ADD/ADHD students. A psychology background may help an IEP teacher so they can interact with special needs students in a way that’s effective and comfortable for the child.