The Rewards of Working in Special Education

Special education assistants do so much more than help special needs teachers. These individuals, who work in a wide range of roles from early childhood education to supporting those with disabilities in their home, not only teach and provide skills, they bring growth and accomplishment to individuals with disabilities and assistance to families who often need extra help.

Understanding the realm of options within the field of a special education specialist is key to determining if the career is right for you. Not only will you need to know the job opportunities, but you’ll also want to understand the types of organizations looking to hire a special educator or special education assistant and have a sense of the rewards and challenges inherent in the field.

A few career opportunities:

Teacher’s Aide

One of the first roles that comes to mind in special education is that of a teacher’s aide. Teacher’s aides are needed in public schools, private schools and special needs schools to help manage the unique and diverse needs of students. This type of assistance is needed for students from preschool up to high school and can include one-on-one help with students in the classroom setting or individual environments, assistance to a group of students to support the special education teacher in class, or active involvement in teacher planning and duties outside the classroom such as helping with lessons, marking assignments or creating plans.

Teacher’s aides are hired by school districts for conventional public schools or special needs schools, private schools (including pre-schools) and private after-school education programs. While post-secondary education isn’t required for all roles, it is for many and will position a candidate ahead of others when they have detailed knowledge of various disabilities and understand support strategies for them

Respite Care

Most families are already busy and when they have a child with special needs, it can be a serious challenge to find time to take a break from life’s requirements. Respite care workers are involved with the day-to-day needs of their clients but may also be involved in providing basic education. These roles may be in a respite care home or, in some cases, provided at the client’s home on a one-on-one basis.

Respite care workers are hired by private care homes that serve children or adults, by government agencies that run care homes and by both private and governmental agencies that provide in-home care services. Many of these roles require 24-hour availability, experience with special needs situations and various disabilities and a willingness to help with basics of daily living. Many organizations require a special education classification or designation, completion of a care aide program or a comparable balance of education and experience.

Tutoring

Special education assistants are ideally suited to help students with learning (and other) disabilities achieve better results in their education through tutoring. Individuals who have taken special education assistant programs will be able to identify the best ways to assist students because of their understanding of various disabilities. This may include standard education tutoring (math, language) for all grades or may include life skills (preparing food, communication) for all ages.

Tutors have a great amount of flexibility in that they may be hired by governmental programs, private programs (such as Tutor Doctor, Sylvan, etc.), by disability support groups or by individual families. Many tutors are also self-employed and are able to make choices on the types of students they want to work with as well as the subjects and programs and the amount of work they want to take on. Tutoring doesn’t always require a special education assistant diploma, but obviously, the education will help in relating to students of various disabilities and understanding how to best provide learning assistance.

Autism Support

In some cases, an individual on the Autism spectrum will require help in their home environment. This type of help can include activities from basic life-skills education to behavioural assistance, traditional education or even day-to-day support. By having an education that focuses on Autism as well as other disabilities, special education assistants can become part of a home support team for individuals with Autism and assist their families with care.

Special education assistants may be hired to help with Autism home support by governmental programs, individual families or Autism organizations. This role may require previous experience with individuals with Autism, an ability to transport individuals, and comfort working with all members of a family.

Salary ranges for special education assistants

Obviously, with a career range as diverse as this, the salary range is sure to be broad as well. With part-time, full-time and self-employment options available in the field, it’s hard to define what special education assistants can expect in terms of a salary.

In looking at online job search tool Indeed, for special education assistant, hourly pay rates range from a little over $10 to just shy of $40. It’s certainly a big difference from one end of the scale to the other. The things that will make a difference and move an individual from the $10 range towards the $40 range will be experience, education, location, fit and availability.

Traditionally jobs within city centres will pay more than those in rural areas and those available and willing to work flexible hours may achieve a higher rate of pay than others. Naturally, special education assistants with previous experience a diploma (or other suitable education) will receive higher salaries as will those who can prove their fit within an organization or team.

Special education assistants do best in the field when they also possess some specific characteristics. These individuals have an even-temperament and are good natured. They can be creative in their communication and teaching styles and accept people of all abilities as they are. They will also be confident, organized, positive and thick-skinned because the job (while incredibly rewarding) can come with its challenges. Those with special needs can have behaviours that, for some, are hard to cope with. Communication can be difficult and it may seem that a setback in education is a massive issue. This is where the characteristic of patience pays off. For those that can manage the challenges, seeing clients thrive is the greatest reward possible.

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