Mainstreaming students with special needs is becoming a common practice in public schools throughout the United States. As a result, general education teachers are coming into more contact with students with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and educational gaps in knowledge.
Also, special education teachers are being placed in new roles. Where once they were isolated from the rest of the campus, these educators are collaborating or co-teaching courses with general education teachers, proctoring assessments, planning meetings, and scheduling students for classes to take.
In many respects, teachers working with special needs students are discovering that they have to do more than teach a specific subject. They have to take on the roles of psychologist, administrator, peer councilor, and curriculum-planning expert.
Those who teach special needs students – general or special educators – should obtain a Master’s degree. While obtaining a credential in a particular subject or in special education is viable, it is not enough. Today’s teachers need to know more about the students they teach as well as the methods and accommodations needed to ensure they learn.
A teacher’s credentialing program usually prepares teachers to teach. In the process, a would-be general education teacher is trained to know the difference between learning disabilities, and possibly some of the laws that affect special education. Usually, this is done in one class. The rest are subject-based methods classes, a reading methods course, and a student-teaching seminar and practice.
A future special education teacher will take the same courses plus a few more, including behavioral management, a course for writing/planning a special education curriculum, and topics focusing on a particular learning disability. Still, the goal of a special education credentialing program is to prepare the candidate to teach. This is way, student teaching – in which a would-be teacher is placed in a classroom for a semester with a master teacher – is often the final course taken before getting the credential.
Master’s programs take it a step further. Laws and policies associated with general and special education are emphasized. Issues pertaining to learning disabilities, affective lesson plans and behavioral management or examined more closely.
Also, many Master’s programs have dissertations or research projects for graduate students to complete. They learn to do research and write a Thesis on a particular subject of their choosing (other programs have a comprehensive exam to be taken after all the courses needed for a master’s degree have been completed).
Master’s programs don’t have to be in special education (although it helps, immensely). It can be in leadership, curriculum and planning, administration, or educational psychology. Either way, many graduate programs are designed to cross or combine various disciplines to give the candidate a comprehensive education.
Most credential and master’s in education programs are concurrent with each other. Often, the same requirements are needed; however, the Master’s program may have up to 10 more courses needed. Would-be teachers will need an additional semester or year to complete the masters after getting the preliminary and clear credential. It may mean a little more time in school, but the pay-off is worth it.
There is a monetary award for earning a master’s degree. Most school districts honor the degree as a crucial step in the pay scale column. Also, in an age when being a teacher is no guarantee for job security; the Master’s degree can deem a teacher more valuable and safe from lay-offs or non-rehiring practices.
Another good reason is promotion. Besides, getting a pay raise or securing one’s job, a teacher with a this degree will often be an ideal candidate for other openings such as extra assignments, educational coaches or mentors, department head (not all districts use this), or promotion to an administrative position.
Still, the greatest advantage is to Master’s degree is that it helps the teachers become more aware of the types of learning disabilities and the methods of teaching those with these conditions.
Every year, it seems, a new learning disorder is being identified. Also, more information on existing conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, Attention deficit disorder (ADD), and processing weaknesses are being discovered. Some schools of education have a Master’s program in learning disabilities (such as Chapman University in Orange, California) while others have it for educational psychology (such as University of Southern California and Pepperdine).
A master’s is only a few courses and a thesis project away from a typical credentialing program. Many of them focus on a specific subject and can turn a school teacher into an expert in one or two fields. A master’s degree has so many upsides. There’s no doubt that anyone working with special needs students should get it.