According to the Institute of Education Sciences, in 2015 the number of children and youth ages 3-21 receiving special education services was 6.4 million, or about 13% of all public school students. Special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. These teachers are trained to adapt general education lessons to students with mild or moderate disabilities, and also are equipped to teach basic literacy and communication skills to students with severe disabilities.
It is a profession that requires much care, patience, and love. Located in the Auburn University College of Education, a student can specifically major in Special Education. Auburn's program uses a combination of coursework and clinical real-world experience to help students develop the tools to serve individuals with special needs and disabilities.
Because this major is much different than teaching in regular education, it requires a student that is passionate about the field. "I knew very early on in my life that I wanted to be a teacher," said Alex Jay, a senior in the program. "As I grew up, I knew I wanted to teach specifically in special education."
Although it is a very rewarding profession, special education comes with it's fair share of challenges and misconceptions. For example, the academic progress typically moves a lot slower than it would for general students. "The biggest challenge in our field is to realize it's all about making progress, in general, as opposed to making a specific grade," said Laura Sharpe, another senior in the program. "Grades don't mean anything if the student isn't learning and improving."
One of the biggest things students in this field want people to realize is that students with special needs are not as different as you think. "Students with disabilities are people of society, just like you and me," Sharpe said. "A person should never be judged solely based on their abilities."
People need to approach special needs students with higher sensitivity than normal students. "When speaking, you should always put the child before the disability," Jay said. "It is so important for everyone in our field to treat our students with the utmost respect."
Auburn's Special Education Program enables students to gain valuable experience in real classroom environments. "We have a very strong program here and luckily are taught by brilliant professors that genuinely care about their students," Sharpe said. "My favorite part of my major is getting to travel to various schools around Auburn and interacting with the students."
Each student is assigned to a specific school and classroom, and the experience is invaluable. "I love being able to have a class where I get to spend 4 hours a day for 3 days a week," Jay said. "I am living out my passion and am gaining so much knowledge and experience from the teachers I am studying under."
For future students wanting to get involved with special education, advice is simple. "Always be an advocate," Sharpe said.
"Volunteer in a variety of settings and most importantly, make sure that you love it," Jay said. "If you don’t love being a special education teacher, then you'll never make it."
For more information on Auburn's special education program, visit here.
(Photo Source: Top- Alex Jay, Bottom- Laura Sharpe)
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