There’s a lot you need to know to succeed as a special education teacher. As you cultivate this knowledge through formal college studies as well as your classroom experience, you may have the chance to apply for a certification or endorsement in an area of expertise. Each state has the autonomy to establish its own certifications and endorsements that go along with a state-issued teaching license, as well as the requirements to attain those endorsements. Not all states will recognize all of the different possible endorsements available, so it is important for established and aspiring special education teachers to find out what certifications their state may require and which optional certifications it may recognize. Endorsements for special education teachers may include generalist and specialist certifications at different age levels as well as certifications in certain disorders and disabilities and in teaching and intervention methods.
Special Education Generalist Endorsements
In many special education classrooms, the students have a number of different disorders and disabilities. They aren’t divided into separate classes of students who all share a common diagnosis. Special education teachers in these diverse classrooms – much like general education teachers in traditional classrooms – have to content with a mix of students’ strengths and weaknesses. To do so, they need to understand the full breadth of special education theory and teaching practice.
Special education generalist programs cover precisely that breadth of study. The curriculum of a generalist special education program might include foundations of special education, typical and atypical child development, assessment and IEP development and curriculum and instruction in special education. Through this coursework, teachers develop a thorough understanding of the different learning, behavioral and cognitive and intellectual disabilities students in their classes may face and methods for supporting them.
Outside of generalist programs, there are numerous specialist programs in special education, such as intervention specialist. You may need to complete a special education generalist program before you can start working toward a specialist endorsement.
Special Education Endorsements by Grade Level
Some special education endorsements cover all grade levels equally, but other programs allow teachers to choose a grade level set to focus on in their studies. In a program that emphasizes early childhood special education, special ed teachers cover topics such as early childhood curriculum development for inclusive classrooms, teaching and learning approaches for young children, screening and assessment of young children, classroom supports for children with high- and low-incidence disabilities and child growth and development.
In an endorsement program for elementary special education, you might take classes such as introduction to special education, language development and disorders for teachers, literacy assessment and intervention for students with disabilities, social and emotional development and mental health in schools. A secondary special education program might focus more on transition planning, adolescent development, and teaching content areas such as science and art at the secondary grade levels but would still incorporate general special education coursework.
When doing fieldwork for your special education program, you should have the opportunity to work with your intended grade level, even if your program doesn’t specialize in elementary or secondary age levels.
Endorsements in Specific Disabilities and Disorders
Some colleges and universities offer programs of study that prepare special education teachers to work with students with specific types of disabilities. You might choose to pursue a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing sequence if you commonly have hearing-impaired students in your special education classes or would like to teach these students. Coursework might include foundations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing as well as specialized classes in curriculum and instruction, literacy and communication development, learning environments and developing listening and spoken language skills pertaining to this student population.
Similarly, a visual impairment endorsement program may cover topics like reading and writing in braille and the characteristics of and teaching methods for students with visual impairments. Teachers may delve deeper into curriculum and assessment for these students as well as the medical and academic implications of their impairments.
Another specialized certification option for special education teachers is the autism spectrum disorders endorsement. Specialized coursework within this sequence might include an introduction to the diagnosis and causes of autism, methods of assessment and instruction for children on the autism spectrum, strategies for communication and socialization among this population and approaches of managing behavior through applied behavior analysis.
You may need a certain background or skill set to be admitted to a specialized endorsement program. For example, if you are interested in a program for teaching the deaf and hearing impaired, you should have a solid grasp of American sign language.
Special Education Endorsements in Interventions and Teaching Systems
Some special education teachers choose to focus not on the disability itself but rather on the interventions and teaching systems used to work with the student. Programs in applied behavior analysis (ABA) are among the more common examples. In an ABA program, classes might touch on the concepts and principles of behavior analysis, applications in behavior analysis, ethics in behavior analysis, behavior change procedures and identification and assessment of behaviors.
A less clinical option is a certification into popular teaching methods used in special education classrooms, such as the Wilson Reading System certification.