It takes true love for the field of education and a dedication to special needs students to remain very long in the realm of special education. The hours are even longer than those of a classroom teacher, summer meetings are routine, the emotional turmoil from parents and distressed children can be overwhelming, and the monetary benefit is typically equal to that of a classroom teacher. Why then, would anyone want to put forth the effort and money required to pursue a graduate degree in the field of special education? The two reasons that immediately come to mind are knowledge and change.
There is an incredible amount of information that is required to be an effective special education teacher. Methods of instruction vary for each type of learning disability, physical disability, learning delay, or emotional delay imaginable. Additionally, special education teachers need to be well acquainted with federal laws governing the educational rights of individuals with disabilities as well as any applicable state laws. They also must be completely up to date on what their school district and specific school policies are regarding students. They need to be able to adapt lesson plans from any of the core curriculum classes to assist their students, have the ability to communicate well with parents in order to create effective IEPs, and have the time management skills to do all of these things for dozens of students across multiple grade levels. While a bachelor’s degree is an excellent foundation, it is not possible to learn everything there is to know about special education in a mere four years. Most would argue an additional two years is not enough either, but it will nevertheless serve to advance the teacher’s knowledge base.
Once you have been working in the education system you will likely see areas you think need to be improved. While it is certainly possible to affect change on a small scale as a teacher, it is difficult to achieve broader change that can affect an entire school, district, state, or national education policy. To do this it is almost always necessary to pursue advanced degrees and transfer to positions with greater authority in the field. Positions in the district office as a special education specialist or as a state department of education official are two ways to achieve greater change in the field that typically require advanced degrees. It is also easier to transition to the private sector with an advanced degree which can allow educators to develop curriculum for special needs students or instructional materials for classroom teachers to help better assist those students with special learning needs.
Have you thought about pursuing an advanced degree? What are your primary reasons for doing so?