Special Education Teachers: A Guide for Parents

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • The role of special education teachers varies from school to school and from student to student.

  • Special education teachers and general education teachers work together in several ways.

  • They may run special education classrooms or co-teach in the general classroom.

If your child has an IEP, you may wonder what the special education teacher does that the general education teacher doesn’t do. Will the special education teacher work with your child one-on-one? Is he the person you can call when you have questions about your child’s IEP?

A special education teacher can serve many different roles. That role varies from school to school and from student to student. Here’s what you need to know about special education teachers.

Special Education Training

The training a special education teacher gets differs from state to state. It can even vary among school districts in the same state.

Most special education teachers have the same training that general education teachers have. But they also complete added coursework. These extra courses vary, based on the specialty a teacher pursues.

For example, some teachers want to teach kids with more than one disability. Their coursework will be different than that of teachers who want to teach kids with specific learning disabilities.

For more information about the different special education certification requirements in your state, check your your state’s Department of Education website.

How Special Education Teachers Work With General Education Teachers

The special education teacher often consults with general education teachers. He’s a resource they can turn to learn more about a student’s learning and thinking differences. He can help explain the impact those issues may have on how the student learns.

Another thing he may do is observe students in the classroom. He may also do informal educational assessments. That way he can see how things are going and think about what accommodations can be made.

The special education teacher also helps figure out how to implement those accommodations. He helps to create and track the data for behavior intervention and classroom management plans. And he may also help general education teachers modify lesson plans.

How Special Education Teachers Work With Students

How a teacher works with students depends on the students’ needs and the way a school is set up.

In some districts, for instance, teachers run special education classrooms. Two common examples of these are:

  • Resource Room. Students come for instruction in certain subjects, such as math or reading.

  • “Self-contained” classrooms. Students with similar learning needs spend the majority of their day in this type of room. Most kids with learning and thinking differences aren’t in self-contained classrooms. They spend the majority of their day in the general education classroom.

Special education teachers may also co-teach in the general education classroom. They help all students, but especially kids who need extra support. That goes for kids who are and aren’t identified with learning and thinking differences.

Here are some other common ways a special education teacher can work with students:

  • Working in the classroom to provide support in the general education setting.

  • Providing “pull out” services in small groups or one-on-one.

  • Keeping track of progress toward IEP goals.

In some rural school districts, there may not be a special education teacher in the building full-time. Sometimes teachers are itinerant, meaning they work in more than one school.

In that case, there are often paraprofessionals who will support your child’s learning. (They’re sometimes known as “aides.”) They follow a special education teacher’s lesson plan and work under the teacher’s supervision.

Partnering With Special Education Teachers

Most special education teachers will have training in how to teach specific subjects to learners with different needs. That includes everything from reading to science to math. They may also learn how to plan lessons using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and assistive technology.

But teacher-preparation programs don’t all include training in things like specific reading programs for struggling readers. That may be something a teacher has to learn at professional development training. If you’re not sure about the training your child’s teacher has, it’s OK to ask. Having an open dialogue is key to building a strong partnership.

As you learn more about the teacher, be sure to share information about your child, too. Talk about strengths and weakness, as well as strategies that work at home. You can even share a 3x3 card to help teachers get to know your child. Find out how well your child’s supports and services are working. And ask what you can do at home to help your child.

Key Takeaways

  • The training a special education teacher gets can vary from state to state, and even district by district.

  • Special education teachers can help general education teachers figure out how to implement a student’s accommodations.

  • Partnering with the special education teacher can help you both make sure your child is getting the support he needs.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Kristen L. Hodnett, MSEd 

is a clinical professor in the department of special education at Hunter College in New York City.

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