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6 Influencers Working in Special Education

6 Influencers Working in Special EducationSuccessful special education careers don’t all look identical. In the field of special education, there are a number of individuals currently working who have had a huge impact on children, families and teachers across the globe. They use their special education degrees to spread knowledge: by speaking, writing books, blogging and sharing their expertise on social media, beyond their own direct networks. Influencers like these come from varied backgrounds, specialties and positions, but helping kids learn is their common goal. 

Carrie Clark

Carrie Clark’s career as a speech-language pathologist began in graduate school at Truman State University. She worked at the Columbia Public Schools in Columbia, MS, and went on to open her own private practice. She founded the widely read blog Speech and Language Kids to educate families on how to best help their special needs children – “my superpower is breaking down complex speech and language research into actionable, step-by-step plans,” she says as a welcome message on her website.

Dr. Frederick Covington

Dr. Frederick B. Covington is an occupational therapist with a degree from Howard University and is now an award-winning inventor, lecturer, app developer and author. He works with children with a range of abilities, including intellectual impairments, behavioral problems, ADHD, OCD, sensory integration deficits, learning disabilities and executive functional disorders. He’s focused on holistic patient care; as he says, “Treat the patient, not the diagnosis.” 

Rob Gorski

Autism awareness blogger and special needs parent Rob Gorski created the multiple award-winning blog the Autism Dad blog (formerly Lost and Tired) in 2010. In 2013, he was named the third-most influential autism blogger on the internet by Sharecare. 

As Rob explains on LinkedIn, “My oldest is extremely medically fragile with unbelievably rare conditions … I live for my wife and kids, as well as helping others in the Autism and special needs community … My goal is to use my success to not only help my family move forward in life but also help as many other families within the special needs community as possible.” 

Katrina Keene

Dr. Katrina Keene is a school leader and education strategist who researches and integrates new technologies into classrooms to help special ed students succeed. As Director of Innovation at a College Preparatory School, she was responsible for student achievement through technology integration. She received a master’s of education degree from Walden University and went on to become the co-founder of Edventure Quests, a MIEExpert, founder of #tntechchat and #edcampleadtn, and can be found in several well-known EdTech publications, blogs and podcasts. “Katrina’s passion for technology and education is strengthened through the phenomenal educators she works with every day,” she says on her website. 

Dr. Matthew Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is an educator and prominent advocate for students and children with special needs. He received a master’s degree and doctorate in education from Jackson State University, and a certificate of executive leadership from Hampton University. On the university level, Dr. Lynch works with special ed instructors to increase their understanding of technology integration strategies to help their students learn. His research concentrates on school reform, closing the achievement gap and improved teacher education. He runs his own consulting group and edits the Edvocate and Tech Edvocate.

Michelle Rhee

Kennedy School for Government graduate Michelle Rhee began her special education career as a teacher in the Baltimore school district. She went on to found StudentsFirst, a nonprofit that advocates for education reform (which has since merged with another education advocacy organization, 50Can). “While teaching elementary school … I saw firsthand how an excellent education changes lives,” she says on LinkedIn. “That’s why I’ve made it my life’s work to provide this to every child in this country, no matter their ZIP code, race or socioeconomic background. There is no excuse not to.”

In all their various fields, these eight influencers demonstrate the potential those who work in special education can have. Special education degrees helped jumpstart their careers, but for each of these individuals, their love for the children they worked with drove them to new professional heights. 

Learn more about special education career paths.

What is the difference between a IEP and 504?

13% of all students enrolled in school receive special education services.

Educators remain flexible to manage their classrooms and reach students. After all, everyone learns differently. But, individuals with either a 504 plan or an IEP (Individual Education Plan) need a specialized approach.

As future and current educators, we all want to make sure we meet the needs of our students. Since more than 1 in every 10 students needs special education being knowledgeable will be an asset.

We are responsible to attend parent-teacher conferences, grade papers, and manage a classroom. But, we are also responsible to meet guidelines for 504 Plans and IEPs.

Knowing about these plans in advance helps you as an educator to feel more prepared. You will feel more confident in teaching students with specific educational needs.

Both 504 plans and IEPs protect students with disabilities. Each aims to meet the needs of a student but differ in their approach, services, and goals.

So, what’s the difference? Read on to learn more.

The Difference Between IEPs and 504 Plans

1. The Degree of Services Needed

Students with an IEP need special/individualized education based on an evaluation. Students with a 504 Plan need accommodations within general curriculum classes.

A student with an IEP needs a higher degree of special education services. This includes placement in special education classes or modifications/accommodations in the general education classroom.

Students with a 504 Plan typically need certain accommodations within the general class setting. These students need fewer accommodations than students with an IEP. This includes accommodations such as needing more time to complete assignments.

2. Applicable Laws and Rights

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) enables students with disabilities to IEPs. This federal law entitles students with disabilities to free and appropriate education. Enforcement of this law is from the ages of 3 to 21 years old.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also guarantees that students with a disability receive free and appropriate public education. If a student meets the requirements to receive an IEP, then an IEP outweighs the 504 Plan. If a student only qualifies for a 504 Plan then the IDEA does not apply.

Each of these laws provides services to the student at no cost. Both laws require school districts to follow the requirements outlined. Schools must follow each plan to avoid discrimination.

3. Qualifications

504 Plans include a broad spectrum of physical and mental impairments as qualifications. These impairments interfere with learning or a major life activity such as reading. Examples of impairments include mental illness, loss of motor capabilities, or specific learning disabilities.

These impairments create classroom accommodations for the student. Accommodations include a test read out loud, extra bathroom breaks, or assistive technology.

To qualify for an IEP, a student must meet one or more conditions outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Conditions include specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, or emotional or physical impairments.

The child’s outlined condition must also interfere with educational performance. Their condition and interference in the general classroom benefit them to receive a specialized education.

Special education is sometimes separated from the general education curriculum, but not always. Special education can mean being in classrooms with modified curriculums and instruction. These modifications exist on a continuum based on the needs of the students and their level of academic ability.

Sometimes students with an IEP are able to be in the general education classroom setting. Supervision on the part of the teacher or a paraprofessional may be necessary.

A paraprofessional is an individual who is trained to meet the specific needs of a child with a disability. A paraprofessional assists the students with tasks outlined in the IEP.

Some students are assigned an individual paraprofessional. In other cases, a paraprofessional assists all students and the special education teacher in the classroom.

4. Type of Documentation

By law, IEPs must be documented in writing. 504 plans are not required to be in writing. Schools generally do document 504 plans in writing to maintain clear communication.

An IEP includes the present academic status of the student, accommodations, and modifications. It also outlines educational goals, duration of service, and a participation plan. Lastly, the IEP shows how the child will take part in standardized testing.

A 504 Plan outlines specific accommodations the child needs. The accommodations are based on the student’s impairment.

Each time an IEP plan changes it must be in writing. 504 Plan also can change but it does not need to be in writing. Some schools do make these changes in writing for a 504 Plan to maintain clear communication.

Any significant changes to an IEP must be presented to the parent before the changes take place. These changes need to be in writing prior.

Significant changes to a 504 Plan must also be told to the parent. It is not a required for changes to be documented in writing.

5. Support System

Children with IEPs and 504 Plans have a support team which ensures that the plans are carried out. The IEP support team is more in-depth than the 504 support team.

The support team for an IEP includes the child’s parent, a district representative, and a specialist who interprets evaluation results. Additionally, at least one general education teacher and a special education teacher. All the members of the support team must be present at IEP meetings minus some exceptions.

The support team for a 504 Plan includes an educator (general or special education teacher), the child’s parent, and the school principal. The educator on the 504 support team understands the students, their needs, and accommodations needed.

IEPs and 504 Plans in the School Setting

For those seeking a career in special education, IEPs and 504 Plans will be discussed in your education courses. Just like each student with an IEP or 504 Plan has a support team, so will you!

Seasoned teachers and administrative staff can help support you in understanding the laws and guidelines necessary to provide all students with access to public education.

To learn more about careers in special education and to see if this may be the right career for you visit our blog.

If you do decide that a career in education is for you, then visit our website to find an online or special education program that meets your specific needs and career goals!

What are the different types of Special Education?

Over 6.7 million students are currently receiving some form of special education.

If you’re thinking of teaching children with a learning disability or other special needs, then it’s important to understand just how broad the category of “special education” actually is.

In this post, we’ll quickly introduce you to the thirteen types of special education. This way, you can decide which areas you’d like to focus on as you continue on the path toward becoming a special education professional.

1. Deaf-blindness

This refers to a student that has difficulties when it comes to both hearing and seeing what’s being said and shown to them.

They may not be completely deaf or blind, but the combination of the two of these issues makes it harder for them to learn at the rate of their peers.

In some cases, they have struggled so much that a school dedicated specifically to only the deaf or only the blind did not have the resources to help them.

2. Hearing Impairment

A student with a hearing impairment may not be completely deaf, but they are hard of hearing. In some cases, they may be deaf in one ear or deal with a hearing loss that changes and progresses with time.

In short, it’s any loss or change in hearing that isn’t defined as deafness.

3. Deafness

A deaf child has many specific needs in the classroom.

You may need to learn ASL, understand how to operate a hearing aid system, and find other ways to communicate with deaf students.

4. Specific Learning Disability

A child with a specific learning disability, or SLD, has been diagnosed with a processing or learning issue.

They may have a single learning disability, or they may have more than one. This can make it hard for the child to read, communicate, write, understand math, and more.

Specific Learning Disabilities can include an auditory processing disorder, Dyslexia, a nonverbal learning disability, or Dysgraphia.

5. Autism

There are over 3.5 million Americans currently living on the Autism spectrum.

Autism means that a child may have difficulty expressing or controlling their emotions, have trouble with communication, and even struggle to make friends.

They may also make repetitive movements, fixate on ideas, and become extremely sensitive to their sensory surroundings (like light or sound.)

6. Other Health Impairment

This is a bit of an “umbrella term” when it comes to the types of special education available to learners today.

This can refer to conditions and illnesses that impact a child’s strength, ability to focus or stay awake, and more.

For example, ADHD falls under the category of “Other Health Impairment.

7. Visual Impairment/Blindness

There are nearly 63,000 students who are either blind or dealing with another more severe visual impairment.

Be aware that a child who wears glasses will not fall under the category of Visual Impairment.

A student may require special accommodations, need help learning braille, or even need a guide around their school.

8. Speech or Language Impairment

This is another blanket term in the world of special education. This means that a child has issues with speaking or communication.

They may not speak the language of instruction, they may stutter, and they may have some sort of a voice impairment that prevents them from speaking.

9. Emotional Disturbance

A student with an emotional disturbance deals with moderate to severe mental health issues.

In some cases, they have been diagnosed with a more severe mood disorder, like Bipolar Disorder or even Borderline Personality Disorder. They may also have schizophrenia, extreme anxiety, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder.

They may become angry, mean, or violent, or they may withdraw and isolate themselves to the extreme.

10. Traumatic Brain Injury

This type of special education refers to a student that has suffered from a brain injury that has impacted their physical and/or emotional/learning development.

Usually, this happened because of an accident. In some cases, however, the brain injury could have been sustained because of abuse.

11. Intellectual Disability

This refers to children that don’t simply have a learning disability but have an intellectual ability that is well below average for their age range.

For example, the student may have Down Syndrome.

In some cases, this lower intellectual level can make it hard for the student to take care of themselves. It could also impact their overall social life, and make it tough for them to communicate their needs and feelings.

12. Multiple Disabilities

In some cases, children will have more than one of the disabilities on this list.

This means that parents may need to look into more specialized programs to ensure that their students get the education support they need.

13. Orthopedic Impairment

Students with an orthopedic impairment deal with situations that make it difficult for them to move as easily as children without some sort of disability can.

They may be in a wheelchair, be missing a limb, need a walker, or have a limp or another issue that makes it harder for them to move. In some cases, they may be unable to write or fully turn their heads to read.

The 13 Types of Special Education: Wrapping Up

We hope that this brief overview of the 13 types of special education has helped you to narrow down your specifications when it comes to what you want to concentrate on.

Remember that special education, though challenging, is one of the most rewarding professions to get into.

If you’re ready to jump start your career, let us help you learn how to make a difference in the lives of your future students.

Master’s Degree in Education: Why I Chose It

Master's Degree in Education: Why I Chose ItLiving in Florida for three years, I had recently heard of the teacher shortage in the state and wondered if a Master’s Degree in Education could be a possible next step for my career.  I was also recently and unexpectedly reunited with a college friend who had just made a change in her career to education.

So, in 2005 I decided to make a career change.  I decided to follow a path I considered following when I was eighteen.  It was a path I initially turned away from but now felt drawn towards. I decided to become a teacher. 

I spent the last few months of 2005 and the spring of 2006 taking certification exams, ESE K-12, Pre-K through 3rd grade, along with the general knowledge exam and applied for a temporary teaching certificate.  I also made the decision during that time to quit my decent paying job to take a teacher assistant job. 

I was excited and scared to make such a drastic change.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I had the skills to be an effective teacher.  I felt if I could begin working with students and teachers in some capacity, I would have a better idea if this was a good choice for me.

I taught my first class in 2006, Pre-K EELP (now Pre-K VE).  I also spent the next few years completing an Alternative Certification Program (ACP) before applying for my professional teacher’s certificate.  Those first few years were challenging but gratifying at the same time.  I was fortunate that I was surrounded by wonderful mentors and colleagues who were generous with advice and resources.  Teachers are some of the hardest working, smartest, generous and caring people I know.

Since starting teaching, I set the goal of going back to school for a Master’s Degree in Education.  After finally completing the ACP program, I told myself I’d take a break.  Teaching is fulfilling but it also is exhausting and a one year break turned into seven simply because I was hesitating.  

I loved many aspects of being a teacher.  Being able to have a positive influence on a child’s life was, for me, the best part of the career.  But at the same time, I was hesitant because the demands placed on teachers can be overwhelming.  I wasn’t sure if I could juggle the demands of teaching and college classes at the same time.  And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take on the expense of college when I was struggling to get by. 

In order to continue in education, I wanted to become a better teacher.  To do that, for me, meant to earn a Master’s Degree in exceptional education.  I made the choice to finally work to fulfill the goal I set when I started as a teacher.   I would continue to work towards being the best teacher I could be for my students.  This past August, I enrolled in University of Central Florida’s Master’s Degree in Education program that includes a Pre-K Disabilities Certificate.  Twenty four years after earning my bachelor’s degree, I am so nervous and so excited to say that I am back in school.

Is a Special Education Career Right for You?

Is a Special Education Career Right for You?Becoming a special education teacher is a high and honorable calling. Teaching children with physical, mental or emotional impairments can be difficult but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Many special education teachers find a great deal of fulfillment helping students learn and grow.

However, it’s not just emotionally gratifying. There is currently a huge shortage of special education teachers across the United States. As more children are diagnosed with disabilities and older teachers leave the workforce, the national demand for jobs in special education is only expected to grow, offering more career opportunities.

As expected for such an important endeavor, the requirements for special education jobs are high. As such, determining a clear career path can be complex. For those drawn to special education, this article discusses the training, tools, qualifications and credentials to begin or further develop your career.

Career Path Varies by State

In most cases in the U.S., finding a job in special education requires a bachelor’s degree, state-specific certification and a master’s degree. In most states, a bachelor’s degree is the lowest bar for employment. Having a master’s degree or other specialized certification is particularly important, as working with disabilities such as autism, hearing impairment, vision impairment or any emotional disturbances requires specific training. To become a fully qualified special education teacher, further education as well as state certification are often needed get the necessary skills to help students succeed.

Some colleges and universities, such as Saint Joseph’s University, offer an online master’s degree in special education as well as certification programs, with concentrations in autism spectrum disorder, hearing impairment and the Wilson Reading System. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota offers an online master’s degree in special education with state licensure options. George Washington University also offers both online master’s degrees and certificate programs in special education, focusing on culturally and linguistically diverse learners and those looking to help special needs students transition into post-secondary education. 

Alongside these educational skills, many states have additional requirements. These usually include fingerprinting, background checks, registering with state officials and passing state exams. In California, for example, having a bachelor’s degree and completing a number of assessments will only provide a preliminary credential for special education. For a Level I or Level II Professional Clear Credential to teach special education, completing a fifth year of study is required, as well as approved courses in special education. To get a certificate and license to teach special education in New York state, a number of state-registered programs for students with disabilities are required, along with teaching certification exams, a variety of tests and three years of classroom experience. For specific special education jobs, the requirements are listed on each state’s education department website.

Demand for Skills May Drive up Salaries

Regarding salary expectations, even with the increased demand for highly trained educators, the level of financial compensation for special education jobs varies widely by state, depending on the school of employment and the level of education that an instructor teaches. For example, a special education teacher would earn more at a secondary school than they would teaching at an elementary school.

The 2015 median pay for a special education teacher in the United States was $56,800. In California, the average salary for a special education teacher is $65,370 – $12,000 more than the national average of $53,220, and the need for special education teachers in California is expected to grow by 20 percent over the next two years. In Texas, the salary of $52,283 is slightly lower than the national average, but demand is expected to grow as much as 41 percent by 2018. In Florida, the average salary of $41,741 is quite a bit below the national average, but the demand for special education teachers is expected to grow 19 percent by 2018. Other states that can expect an increased demand for special education teachers are Georgia, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Arkansas.

If you have the right temperament and drive for such a career, investing in a special education path is likely to pay off in terms of both personal gratification and professional opportunities. Having extra training and knowledge will also allow you to better serve your students, guiding them towards their full potential while also meeting the growing demand for special education teachers nationwide.