The Challenges and Rewards of Being a Special Education Teacher

Interview with Meeghan Mousaw, Certified Special Education Reading Teacher and Education Blogger


Special Education is not a field for the faint of heart—it requires education and training, patience, and a passion for helping students succeed in difficult situations. But according to Meeghan Mousaw, a  Certified Special Education Reading Teacher, the potential rewards more than make up for the many challenges. In fact, working with children with disabilities was part of what inspired her to co-found her own company—a free online reading program for kids of all ages and abilities.

challenges and rewards of being a special education teacher

Mousaw’s education background includes earning a Bachelor of Business Administration, a Masters in Special Education and a Special Education Certificate. After completing her undergrad degree, Mousaw found herself working in an unfulfilling job as a computer programmer—and she decided that she wanted to pursue a career that would really make a difference. So she returned to school to earn her graduate degree and certificate and found her true calling working with students who have special education needs.

Some years later, Mousaw asked her mother Madreen Karle—a retired reading specialist who taught for more 25 years—for advice about helping her young daughter learn to read. After following her mother’s reading curriculum, she realized that it would be extremely effective for helping all children—including those with learning disabilities—and the concept for Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound Reading was born.

GradSchools: Tell us about your experience earning your undergrad and grad degrees?

I earned my undergrad degree at the University of Notre Dame. I lived on campus and took five classes at a time. For grad school, I worked as a teacher’s aide during the day and I took classes a few times a week at night. I took three classes at once but most of my other classmates just took one class at a time. For me, the course work was much easier in grad school. That may have been because I was older and wiser—and had better study habits—though! Working in a school while earning my Masters in Special Education helped because I could complete many of the assignments by watching and working with the students.  

GradSchools: Discuss the Sight and Sound Reading education website. What is your mission with the website and what do you hope to achieve?

I started a website with my mother who was a reading teacher for over 25 years. With my background in business and computers (from Notre Dame) and then my Masters in Special Education, it really made sense to start a website that taught children how to read for free. Through the site, we hope to offer a place where students can get explicit reading instruction. With a lot of sites, students can play computer games to help them with skills, but our site teaches children through videos and worksheets. I also hope to offer reading teachers ideas to use in the classroom or at home—and, of course, to provide materials that students will love. Learning to read is fun! I hope to help people find ways to help students learn to read in enjoyable, creative ways.  

GradSchools: What is the most important part about special education that someone who is interested in this career path should know?

It is a challenging profession. There is always going to be a student (or students) that make things interesting (and/or difficult!). It is rewarding, though, when you see how much you are helping to reach someone that others may have had a hard time teaching. Be ready to rise to the challenge and be ready to think outside the box.  

GradSchools: In your opinion, where do you see the future of special education teaching heading?

I think the future of teaching is being a special education teacher. We all have special needs and special learning styles. Being a special education teacher means you can adapt your teaching style to meet the individual needs of each student. You can take a lesson and modify it so that it reaches everyone.

GradSchools: What is the most rewarding or exciting thing about the work you do?

I love what I am doing. It is rewarding on so many levels. First and foremost, it is great getting notes from people that are using our program. Some of the parents have had so many challenges in helping their children learn to read (either through the schools or homeschool). We had one mother whose child was diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, and she was able to help her learn to read. Receiving a note from someone who has struggled but is now succeeding is so rewarding. It is really exciting, too, that we are able to reach so many people through our program. In a classroom, I can only reach 20 students at one time, but through the program we are reaching tens of thousands of children.  

GradSchools: What have been the most challenging aspects to being a special education teacher?

Honestly, working with the parents and the legalities of IEPs (individual education plans) is what I find most challenging. Coming up with a plan that everyone agrees on, and scheduling many meetings to figure out the plan takes away time from actually executing the plan. It is necessary to make goals in order to achieve them, but it is hard to get everything to come together.  

GradSchools: In your opinion, do you think it’s a good time to go into special education teaching? If so, why?

Definitely! It could be very rewarding. It is a lot of work and very challenging: exhausting physically and emotionally at times. But, you may get summers off and potentially leave work at the same time as your own children (if you are a parent).

GradSchools: Do you think there are any specific qualities that help someone thrive in special education? If so, what are those qualities?

I think it is great if you are flexible and positive, yet strong-willed and caring. Sometimes it is very difficult to reach certain children. Being able to laugh at yourself—or at a situation—is a must.  

GradSchools: What advice do you have to students who are interested in pursuing a special education teaching degree? What are the biggest challenges, and how can students prepare for them?

If possible, try and get some experience teaching students of different ages and levels of disability. I was able to teach in both middle school and high school—with students who had both moderate and severe challenges. Through this, I was able to see that I preferred working with students who have more severe challenges. You can always change your mind, but it is nice to try things out and actually confirm that you enjoy working in special education before spending money on a degree.  

special education masters degree


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