by Tim Wei
Candidates who are seeking a job in special education face unique challenges because they need to present themselves as more than a general teacher. They need to prove they are true specialists in the education field. Principals will be looking for special education teachers who are masters in developing differentiated lessons, experts in child disabilities, advocates for students, and able to work cooperatively on a team of professional educators.
When you interview for a special education job, it is likely you'll be asked many of the standard questions that are presented to all teacher candidates. This includes questions about classroom management, parent communication, technology, and your philosophy of teaching. But, you will also be faced with additional questions that are specific to special education. You answers to these questions will help you prove your dedication to and background knowledge of special education.
I always recommend candidates familiarize themselves with possible interview questions beforehand. Most teacher interview questions are relatively predictable and, if you think about what might be asked, and develop possible answers in your mind, the actual interview will seem routine and familiar.
Below are a few thoughts for special education candidates who are preparing for their next interview.
Know your future students.
Special education teachers are specialists in a huge variety of academic, emotional, and physical disorders that students have. You'll need to know about and discuss specific disorders. Know what the symptoms of the disorder are, what types of services might be available for these children, and be armed with some effective teaching strategies.
A few of the many specific classifications you might want to be sure you're familiar with are:
- speech disorders
- language and processing difficulties
- autism and Aspergers disease
- emotional and behavioral disorders
- ADD and ADHD
- physical handicaps
- Tourette's Syndrome
- Cerebral Palsy
Don't be the candidate who
doesn't know an IEP from a CSE.
A special education candidate should realize that the job will require more than just teaching students. There will be lots of meetings to attend in which you discuss student needs, goals, successes and failures. There will be plenty of papers to fill out which document student progress and plans for future instruction. And you'll be the go-to person when other teachers have questions about a student's needs or abilities. Be prepared to discuss the job requirements that go "beyond teaching", including:
- IEP (Individualized Education Program) - Know what an IEP is and how to write one. When you become a special education teacher, it may (at times) seem like your career revolves around IEP paperwork, so be prepared to talk about this in-depth.
- CSE (Committee on Special Education)- Know what an CSE meeting is, how they're conducted, and what the role of the special education teacher is. If you have ANY experience being a part of a CSE (or other special ed.) meeting, please emphasize this at your interview as it will give you an edge over many more inexperienced candidates.
- Prepare yourself beforehand by studying up on the school district's process for referring students. They may have a Child Study Team or other type of group for determining which students need special education services and which students do not. Do your research to figure out what tests are administered to determine eligibility for the program. Also, it can be especially helpful if you know what services are available within the school and which are not.
- Be prepared to talk about how you'll be able to help school faculty members who need guidance in dealing with special education students. Many students will be pushed into regular education setting for all or part of the school day. When other teachers have questions or concerns about a special education student's achievement, you'll be the one they turn to. You may be asked to help them adapt the curriculum so students can reach their fullest potential.
It takes a team to educate a child.
You'll definitely want to emphasize your ability to work cooperatively with other teachers and support staff. There is a team-approach to a special education student's successes. You'll be required to work closely with regular education teachers, PT and OT teachers, speech teachers, counselors and social workers, special education administration, and resource teachers. Be ready to discuss your role on the team of educators who will be responsible for the success of your students.
In many situations, special education students will have a teacher aides or you may even be given an assistants to help you out through the day. Be prepared to discuss how you might use the support staff in a way that benefits the student. Remember: You do want to foster independence in your students, so you won't want them to be overly-dependent on an aide or assistant. However, the student will have very specialized needs which may require an extra pair of hands. At your interview, you may be asked how you will use support staff to balance the ability and limitations of your students.
Strive for Least Restrictive Environment.
One of the goals of special education should be to ensure that all students learn by being challenged, but not overwhelmed. While some students may be in a self-contained special education program, others may be mainstreamed or a part of an inclusion program. Your goal should be to ensure that no student is ever over-classified. He/she should always be given as "normal" of a school experience as possible.
In the United States, students with disabilities are legally entitled to be educated alongside students without disabilities, whenever possible. You'll want to ensure that your students have access to the regular education curriculum, regular extra-curricular activities, and any other programs regular education students participate in, as long as the student does not have a disability that requires his/her exclusion. You'll want your special education students should feel as through the fit in with the school community, not alienated from it.
Know the secret to being a successful Special Ed. teacher!
What is the key to being a successful special ed. teacher? It's being an expert in differentiated instruction! Yes it's true that all teachers need to differentiate their lessons to meet the learning styles, academic needs, and interests of their students. But in special education, it's not only a recommended teaching technique, it's essential!
Unlike other teachers, you'll never be able to open a teacher resource manual and begin teaching the lessons as-is. You'll need to adapt each lesson so that the children in your class are learning as much as possible, given their own personal strengths and limitations. It is important to show how you will use differentiation to adapt the curriculum to meet the individual learning needs of your students.
About the Author
Tim Wei is the author of the eBook, Guide to Getting the Teaching Job of Your Dreams. It's a helpful, instantly-downloadable book that guides you through the process of finding a teaching jobs. It includes teacher interview questions and answers, resume and cover letter advice, how to find unadvertised jobs, what to do when you apply but school districts aren't calling you back, what questions YOU can ask the interviewers, buzzwords and jargon you need to know, and lots more!
This is Tim's first guest post for SchoolSZ. Disclosure notice - I will receive a commission on any of Tim's books sold through this page (please know, I wouldn't offer it if I didn't stand behind the information).