Being a teacher of any stripe is no job for the thin-skinned, but those who chose to charge into the field of special education, working with special needs children deserve to come back with medals on their chests. On top of the standard issue stresses of education, special ed teachers face increased emotional demands, potential liabilities, and the eternal need to tool up with new developments in the field. So how, then, does special education find its way onto the top ten list of career satisfaction? Simply stated, working with special needs children offers profoundly meaningful experiences that money can’t buy.
Involvement with students’ lives
Although all teachers should be great communicators, special needs teachers need to be a walking Rosetta Stone of translating needs, perspectives, and experiences. In addition to navigating students for whom connection with others may be a challenge in itself—think autism—special ed teachers often act as a conduit between parents, therapists, and case workers. That can amount to a job you don’t leave at the office, as parents may seek guidance and feedback after the bell rings. But it also means knowing you’re taking an active role in a young person’s growth.
Special needs teachers are more likely to break through social barriers than their general ed counterparts, and that give and take more than makes up for a few late night phone calls.
An endless well of stimulation and personal upgrading
Any special needs teacher will tell you that even on a slow news day, their environment is never dull. While general ed teachers can often count on trotting through the school year at a stately, measured pace, the universe of special needs students is an endlessly morphing evolution of new people, challenges, and sometimes crises. For those with the right profile, however, such pressures are impetus for ever-renewing growth, not buckling under.
Getting through to many special needs kids is rarely a by-the-numbers affair, so even the most mundane feats of communication may stoke a teacher’s ability to tackle problems creatively. Even more than with general teachers, special needs teachers find themselves re-learning about the world they live in, often learning about the limitations of their worldview in the process. This intellectual rejuvenation, coupled with the daily effervescence of wide-eyed young people, manages to cultivate a playful sense of vitality among special needs educators.
The Little Moments
Bound up in the altruistic care that comes with effective teaching, there is often a little selfishness: we feel good about ourselves when we see our efforts at illumination catch fire. This is true for all educators, but these emotional and intellectual dividends are magnified in special ed, often because many of its students have had their faith in their abilities shattered—or never built up at all. Similarly, the thanks a special needs teacher gets from parents who have previously felt isolated in their quest for their children’s blossoming is a precious and unexchangeable currency of its own. Breaking through the various boundaries that separate all human beings is always a powerful jab of pleasure, but when the challenges are higher, so are the rewards.
In short, the very challenges of being a special needs teacher are often its very rewards. It demands that you be as strong and resilient as a spider web, yet vulnerable at the same time. It demands one be human, in the fullest sense of the word, and it provides no shortage of raw material with which to become fully so. What more could one ask for in a job?