Are you a teacher or educational professional who is interested in learning practices to guide gifted students and those with special needs? If so, earning an Online Masters in Special Education degree could be a great academic selection with the potential to lead to a variety of professional possibilities.
Generally, special and gifted education graduate programs are geared to help provide students with the techniques and knowledge needed to pursue careers as classroom teachers of students with special needs, and may also help prepare teachers of general classes how to include students who are either special needs or gifted in their classrooms. Historically, most students with special needs have been excluded from school[i].
Some programs can also be specific to teaching a certain population, such as autism spectrum disorders, learning and behavior disorders, the visually impaired or education of the deaf or gifted students.
Broadly defined, special education professionals cater to the population of students who have special needs, whether because of physical, mental, or psychological disabilities. These students require an adapted curriculum. In the situation with gifted students, or talented students, these are students who have high abilities and need an enriched classroom setting with an accelerated program so that they can continue to progress.
Earning an online masters in special education could potentially help graduates in their job search. According to the BLS, all states require that special education teachers in the public school setting have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some states require special education teachers to complete a master’s degree in special education to become fully certified[ii].
What are the potential benefits of earning my master’s in special and gifted education online?
Distance learning may be a good option for the working professional that does not have the time to commute to classroom, and needs the flexibility of scheduling study around other factors in their timetable. Earning a master’s in special education online could be a convenient learning format that allows you to boost your current technical knowledge and potentially give your existing career a jumpstart. Up-to-date technology can keep you connected to your virtual classroom, classmates, and professors, so you still get the on-campus feeling.
What is a Special Education Teacher?
Special education teachers are professionals who work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional or physical disabilities. Some of the industries with the highest levels of employment include elementary and secondary schools, individual and family services, educational support services, government, and residential intellectual and developmental disability and substance abuse facilities[iii].
One of the duties of special education teachers is to adapt general education lessons in a variety of subjects, such as reading, writing and mathematics, to those who have mild and moderate disabilities. They also teach basic skills, such as literacy and communication techniques to those students with severe disabilities. Their responsibilities vary depending on where they work, who they are teaching, and their teaching specialty[iv].
In terms of job outlook, employment of special education teachers is projected to grow 6% from 2012 to 2022[v]. More and more children with disabilities are being identified earlier and are being enrolled into special education programs, which may increase the demand for special education teachers in preschool and kindergarten grades[v].
Special education teachers should inform themselves about certification; according to the Bureau of Labor statistics[ii]:
- All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed, though requirements for certification vary from state to state. This license is often referred to as a certification. Private school teachers are not required to be licensed.
- Many states offer general licenses in special education that allow teachers to work with a variety of disabilities, while others offer licenses or endorsements based on a specific category such as autism or behavior disorders
- Some states allow special education teachers from another state to transfer their license, while others require teachers to pass their state’s licensing requirements
Some of the important skill-sets that special education might cultivate include[ii]:
- Communication – explaining things in terms that can be understood
- Critical thinking – assess student’s progress
- Build interpersonal relationships – with other teachers, parents, school administration
- Patience – it can be stressful work, so you may have to be slow and steady
- Resourcefulness – adapting lesson plans to suit various learning capabilities
What kind of courses can I study in online masters in special eduation programs?
Online special education and gifted education programs can vary from school to school, and students may have to complete a period of fieldwork; called ‘student teaching[ii].
General coursework may include theory and methods that address the educational needs of the gifted or special needs student. If the program you choose is focused on a particular group, such as an autism emphasis or deaf and hard of hearing, the curriculum will likely reflect that concentration. Some of the topics in online master special education programs could include courses such as:
- Development and characteristics of learners
- Managing behaviors
- Delivering instruction
- Individual learning differences
- Instructional strategies
- Social and language development
- Lesson planning
- Professional and Ethical Practices
Potential career paths for graduates with an online masters in special education?
Aside from entering the profession as a special education teacher, graduates who have earned a master's in special education online can potentially be prepared to pursue a variety of career paths. Some of these might include:
- Childcare Workers: care for children when parents and other family members are unavailable[vi]
- High School teachers: prepare students for life after graduation[vii]
- Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: prepare younger students for future schooling by teaching them basic subjects[viii]
- Middle School teachers: educate students from grade 6-12[ix]
- Preschool teachers: care for children from ages 3-5 who have not yet entered kindergarten[x]
Ready to pursue an online masters in special education?
If you know you want to work with specialized populations, pursuing an online masters degree in special and gifted education may be a rewarding career path with a potentially good job outlook; new job opportunities arise each year from the need to replace teachers who leave the occupation[v].
Start searching through the online special and gifted education graduate programs on GradSchools.com to find the one that could potentially fulfill your vocational or professional goals.
Sources: [i] simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_education | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-4 | [iii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes252059.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-2 | [v] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/special-education-teachers.htm#tab-6 | [vi] bls.gov/ooh/personal-care-and-service/childcare-workers.htm | [vii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm | [viii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm | [ix] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm | [x] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm