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Special Education vs. Elementary Teacher
Old 12-30-2013, 06:48 AM
 
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I am looking to pursue a career in teaching, but am not entirely sure which direction I would like to go in. Can anyone give any insight on the pros/cons between a special education teacher and a regular elementary teacher?

Thank you!


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Old 12-30-2013, 07:06 AM
 
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Elementary teacher:
a lot of work, differentiating ability groups, a lot of paperwork, deal w/ parents, usually have students for only one year

Sped teacher:
a lot of work, individualize everything for everyone, a whole lot of paperwork, deal w/ parents and coordinate w/ other teachers, may have students until they leave elementary, a lot of legalities




Honestly, I wouldn't encourage anyone to be a public school teacher at this point in time, but I certainly wouldn't suggest sped.

If you are really interested in the sped area, you might look into Speech Pathology. That is something you could do in or out of a school and with children or adults.
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Old 12-30-2013, 07:44 AM
 
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Thank you! I'll certainly look into speech pathology. Would you happen to have any insight as to the salaries between the two fields?
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Old 12-30-2013, 09:34 AM
 
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Usually speech is a higher salary. I would also suggest you look into speech.
You can also work in many places (school, hospital, clinic, private practice).

After 24+ years of public teaching..... I would never do it again. Looking at the next 5 years, NCLB, Race to the Top, RTIand Charlotte Danielson Model, I hope I can last 5 years.
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Old 12-30-2013, 09:38 AM
 
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Interesting. Did you find that negatives of the teaching industry greatly outweighed the positives?


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Old 12-30-2013, 09:53 AM
 
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Yes, I think the negatives outweigh the positives.

I LOVE the act of teaching students. Unfortunately I feel like that might actually only be 10% of my job. Planning, paperwork, data analysis, meetings, training, test prep, behavior management, documentation, curriculum nights, and communicating w/ parents all take up so much time.

A common misconception is that the hours are great. Teacher's rarely leave at 3:00. So many teachers work 60+ hours a week and bring it home on the weekends.

I've had the privilege of working in several districts with vastly different populations and levels of parental involvement. I feel like at the heart of each position, they had the same issues: its just not humanly possible to do everything we are expected to do.

Some might disagree with me. Some are better at balancing life and letting things slide in order to maintain sanity. I don't want to discourage you but I don't want you to put in all the work to be surprised at what you find when you finally get your first teaching job.

If you are not completely passionate about teaching, you should not even consider it. If you are deeply passionate about teaching, be prepared for a lot of challenges, get as much experience observing/volunteering in classroom as possible, and search for ways to follow your passion without being just a classroom teacher.
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Certified in both
Old 12-30-2013, 09:59 AM
 
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Some colleges offer programs that end with you being certified in both. My university offered it and I am certified in K-6 regular education and K-12 special education. Your college/university may offer that if you look into it. At least that way, you have an option!
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Old 12-30-2013, 10:13 AM
 
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I guess I didn't even think that was an option, I will have to ask my advisor about it! Thank you!
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Old 12-30-2013, 10:17 AM
 
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Anngirl -

I really appreciate your insight. I am very passionate about teaching, and this will be my second career. I haven't begun school or anything quite yet because as passionate as I am about it, I just want to make sure I am as educated about the career as a whole before I jump into it, get discouraged and then want to quit. I know that all careers/jobs have their own set of obstacles, so I will just have to prepare myself for the inevitable ahead of time. I honestly can't think of anything else I would rather do.

Could you explain a little more what you usually do for data analysis and paperwork?

Thanks!
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Old 12-30-2013, 01:55 PM
 
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Data analysis entails looking at detailed results of assessments and using them to determine what you need to do to improve results. I kind of enjoy it, but some districts go over board with mandating it and requiring you to turn it in to admin. It ends up becoming more about filling in the blank and turning it in that helping the kids.

One district I worked at had weekly math assessments where you had to graph every child's individual answers by hand to turn in with a plan for remediation by the following Tuesday.

One district I worked in, we scanned in all unit assessments and had to analyze individual student responses, objective averages, and sub population averages to turn in. Then we had to plan and turn in how we were going to reteach objectives to the whole class or how we would group students and what we would do differently for remediation. This totaled up to about 8 assessments per 6 weeks.



Paperwork depends on each district. Here are some examples:
-We have to fill out a 6 page document before each unit in each subject to show we know what we're supposed to teach
-Random things that come up throughout the year such as textbook inventories, lunch forms, attendance forms,
-At one district we had to write down all assessment scores for each child in their file...even though such data could be simply printed out
-weekly student recognitions
-documentation of each small group you meet with
-maintaining writing folders for each student
-If the student is low performing you must maintain documentation of every intervention for RTI
-If the child is allowed to be tested, then you end up with 10+ pages of questionnaires and info to fill out.
-If the child gets into SPED you have to fill out PLAFPS to compare the child to the class on each objective and set goals for each objective
-My most recent district is stuck in the dark ages and makes you create lists by hand of each child who has honor roll, positive citizenship, perfect attendance, or failures, although it is online and can be printed.
-We also have to fill out several pages for each child who fails a subject. Honestly, some teachers just change the grades so that they don't have to deal with such useless extra work!
-This year we also had to search cum folders and assess 10 factors to determine if each child was "at risk"


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Old 12-30-2013, 04:03 PM
 
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I 2nd everything that Anngirl said. I love teaching, I hate all the paperwork, admin down my neck, pressure to perform or the alternative be getting fired. I'm sped yet the rubrics our district uses applies to every grade adn every subject. So I, at 1st grade sped, am being evaluated on the same rubric as a 12th grade gifted teacher.

Explain how that's even conceivable.
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Old 12-30-2013, 08:50 PM
 
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Become familiar with:
Common Core and how will will relate to your teaching.
Do you write your own curriculum? Are you paid to write curriculum?
NCLB teacher evaluation system and how it will relate to your income.
RTI, who is responsible for providing interventions and data?
Which testing your students will take and the number of hours/days/weeks you are to prepare your students.
Under your staff handbook, how late are you required to work beyond 40 hours?
Are you required to participate in school school activities, nights, weekends and summer? Is there any pay or comp time involved?
Does the district provide classroom supplies?
How many hours per day do you teach? Are you given paid time for preparing lessons? What is your average class size?
What is the district policy if a student (or parent) has threatened you or physically attacked you?

What other questions would you ask?
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Old 12-31-2013, 05:32 AM
 
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That does sound like a lot of paperwork, and it seems like many of the districts you've worked in still do a lot of unnecessary paperwork which, like you said, could easily be printed off from the computer. Hopefully in future years, that excess work becomes lessened. I actually don't mind admin work. With the career I'm in now, most of what I do is paperwork and such. The only reason I'm looking to change is because what I do now offers zero fulfillment or purpose. Thank you so much for your advice, you've definitely given me a greater insight to the teaching world.
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Old 12-31-2013, 09:14 AM
 
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I'm certified in both. I spent 9 years in reg ed and moved to sped then this year moved back to regular ed. As pp said, the paperwork in both is ridiculous.

Pros to Sped:
-Smaller groups so you get to build better/deeper relationships with kids
-I thought the work was a little easier, I was able to focus on my kdis needs more
-I was able to advocate for them in a way I can't as a regular ed teacher
-If you work with the right teachers it's great to collaborate (this can also be a con)
-Easier to get hired, more of a market for Sped

Con to Sped
-It can be difficult to collaborate with some teachers
-People don't always take you as seriously
-Paperwork

Con to classroom
-The testing is outrageous. It's all you do
-Parent problems
-Paperwork
-Harder to advocate for kids because people don't take you as seriously
-Parent/teacher conferences
-All the classroom responsibilities (assemblies, etc)

Pros to classroom
-I just love the classroom

**I would also stay out of education right now. If you want to work with kids I would go OT or speech. In my district they get paid the same as teachers so I wouldn't worry about pay. As OT or speech you don't have to worry about Common Core or testing. The paperwork is still ridiculous but you don't have to worry about admin, parents, etc. You come in, do your job, work with kids and leave. It's truly the best of both worlds. **

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Thanks Greyhoundgirl!
Old 12-31-2013, 10:32 AM
 
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Thank for the insight! Definitely a lot of factors to consider. I think I'm going to get my bachelors in regular education and then masters in special education. That way I not only have more leverage over some candidates when applying for jobs, but I have more freedom to choose which path I want to venture towards in the future or if I change my mind throughout my career. In terms of paperwork, I've heard almost every single person say something negative about it, but I think if either you're going into the occupation or are already in it, it's just something you have to deal with as it's the nature of the job. I think that some districts are probably overkill with it and it can be incredibly frustrating, but I'm sure that's not the case for every school. The paperwork really isn't a big downfall for me. But that' s just me personally, I know everyone is going to have different views on it.
In terms of occupational therapy - I've looked into a bit, but I don't think I'm as passionate about OT as I am regular teaching. I see that on average OT's get paid quite a bit more than teachers, but I'm sure that varies by district and other factors as well.
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Check your state
Old 12-31-2013, 11:10 AM
 
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requirements. I didn't check to see where you are located, but some states require a Master's degree to teach at all and some states, like NC, will no longer pay you a supplement for your Masters, all you need is a Bachelors, if you get your Master's, that's fine with them, but you will not receive a salary increase.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:18 AM
 
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Hi Parker - I live in New Jersey, and will be looking to teach here. The state only requires a Bachelors, but I'm going to be getting my Masters anyways. Thanks!
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Old 01-01-2014, 10:52 PM
 
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I got my BA in elementary education, specializing in early childhood and sped (so I could teach gen ed preK-grade 6, and sped K-8, or K-12 in some states). I got my masters in ed psych, specializing in school psychology. As I finished my masters, I really questioned why I didn't do speech pathology but now I'm really happy with what I did do.

I would suggest, if you can, making some connections so you can shadow a gen ed teacher and a sped teacher, as well as any specialist (such as speech) in which you are interested, so you can see what typical days look like in your state/district. Others have listed the pros and cons.
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Old 01-02-2014, 06:01 AM
 
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Gracekrispy - that's a really good idea, thank you for the suggestion. I know a few people who are speech pathologists, general teachers and special education teachers. I will certainly follow through and see if I can shadow all, if not some, of them. Thanks again!
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Teaching
Old 01-02-2014, 06:40 AM
 
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I have quickly read through the posts and I'll just throw in a couple of things. I came to teaching late (already a grandmother), and yes, so many requirements are ridiculous - for both sped and gen ed teachers. However, I have never regretted my decision to become a special ed teacher. I slog through the paperwork, attend less than thrilling meetings, and put up with the ridiculous "one-size fits all" teacher evaluation rubrics knowing that the sooner I get through, I can get back to my students. I actually enjoy working with the parents of my students and REALLY enjoy working with gen ed teachers (so much to learn).

I have read a few of the posts about speech teachers. In our district all speech teachers (OT/PT as well) are independent contractors - something to keep in mind. Our SLP works with ~50 students, so there is quite a bit of paperwork involved as well as phone calls, meetings with parents, and kinder screenings. She is -always- running.

I do see teachers with young families and I think it would be difficult to give to children all day in the classroom and then again at home with your own. It is imperative to have a good support system (husband, friends).

If I had it to do again, I would probably find a program where I could be certified in both gen ed and sped ed. I think you will find both have tons of work, in different ways. I find teaching to be extremely rewarding and I absolutely love working with struggling students. Go into it with your eyes wide open and good luck.

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Old 01-02-2014, 07:45 AM
 
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Thank you for the advice! I think I am going to go for both gen ed and special ed...just to give me more variety and options. I hear a lot of people complain about the paperwork...but I think that's a trivial aspect in the grand scheme of things. & honestly, most jobs have paperwork so I don't think it's the worst thing to have to do. Not that I've had a ton of experience with any area of teaching, but I'm not that interested in OT/PT...it's totally opposite of what I'm looking to do. It leans much more towards the health field, and I am interested in actual teaching. Speech therapy I'll definitely look into, but from the research I've done thus far, I think I'm pretty set on gen and special ed...but it's good to keep options open!
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Old 01-02-2014, 05:18 PM
 
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There is sooo much paperwork. I think many of us are frustrated because a significant amount of time that SHOULD be spent with children, are being used to fill out paperwork that is required. In special education, it is a federal requirement. In general ed. you are aligning everything you do to a standard and justifying it by results on a state test. This is constant data collection. RTI is much more data collection and additional time required but you need to fit it in where you could be teaching the entire class. Some of this might be how the district/school determines how to meet state requirement. We have a country full of politicians who have created laws and hoops for teachers to jump through in order to justify we are teaching children. However, we spend more time jumping through hoops than teaching children.
A co-worker each year bought eggs, brought them into her classroom and for two weeks they hatched eggs, learning about the hatching process. The administrator told her it was not a standard and the children would not be tested on it. She was not allowed to waste her time.
PLEASE take some time shadowing educators. Yes, you will learn why we teach. You will also learn why teachers are leaving the position in droves.
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Teaching career differences
Old 01-03-2014, 07:13 AM
 
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Also check the difference in benefits being offered between districts. Unlike some states, pensions and health benefits vary.
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Old 01-03-2014, 08:16 AM
 
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Quote:
I think many of us are frustrated because a significant amount of time that SHOULD be spent with children, are being used to fill out paperwork that is required.
Exactly! It is not that I dislike paperwork. It is that it prevents me from doing what I want- teach children. Here is an example:
The fact is, in the first 12 weeks of school this year I worked 60 hours a week. I'm a teacher. You'd think I spent all of that extra time (20x12=240 hours)preparing to teach, but no. It was just "treading water" and attempting to do everything else (i.e. paperwork and other impractical expecations) required of me. In that 12 weeks, I only sat down and thoroughly prepared a week's worth of plans ONCE. And that one time was when I brought my laptop to church and sat in the back and worked during the Sunday night service! Such a detriment to these children! Imagine a world where I could actually spend all those hours, preparing excellent lessons!

Every school is different, but this is not an uncommon problem.
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Old 01-03-2014, 04:16 PM
 
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Although there is paperwork in other occupations, you are not expected to teach 22-30 children WHILE doing excessive paperwork or do the paperwork on your personal time.
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Regular Ed Teacher Vs. SPED Teacher
Old 01-03-2014, 07:53 PM
 
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I have taught Kindergarten for 5 years. I just last spring went to get certified to teach SPED. I love SPED. I would not go back to the regular classroom. I guess it depends on your district too. I don't know but where I am the Regular Ed teachers have so much paper work, meetings, data, classrooms of 18 in Kindergarten. No assistants. It is AWFUL.

In the SPED world It is not stressful at all. Compared to regular teachers. Of Course this is my first year in SPED but still. I have 10 kids and not all day long. a major plus!! You don't really have to have classroom management (I do inclusion) I do have 2 children with me all day long but management is a breeze compared to 18++ kids. You can teach the kids on their level and what they need. Small groups or individually. I am not stressed out at all. Of course when March comes and I have to write all the IEPs and what not I might be but I can deal with that. At least I don't have all that and 20 kids and meetings and other daily duties of the Regular Ed teacher. I just love it!! I have never really deep down loved my job until now.
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I've done both
Old 01-04-2014, 09:20 PM
 
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People always ask me which is "easier" or "better" and honestly I don't really have an answer. They're both challenging in different ways, and I think a lot of it varies from school to school so no one really has a solid answer. I personally find that my day in sped is a lot more hectic/more work, but I spend a lot less time working outside of contract hours than I did in gen ed. In gen ed I spent hours and hours a week just on grading, and I only graded assessments and major assignments. In sped there is no "grading" (anything I do for data collection I can write down the score right away, as opposed to grading 25 6-8 page tests or essays or something). I found that with the grading and the RtI paperwork and all of the other documentation that was required, I honestly spent more time on paperwork in gen ed. I also had to spend more time on plans since I had to plan not only for each subject but then for 3-4 small groups within that same subject per day also. Now I only plan for my 7 small groups per day.

I actually found management to be somewhat easier with a whole class than a sped group in some cases. In the majority of gen ed classes there are many good role models who are following expectations and can set the tone. In a small group of sped students, you might end up with the majority of the students who have a hard time following expectations and there are no good peer models. It's the same with academics- it was nice in gen ed to have kids that just "got it" right away. I also enjoyed pushing my higher level kids into more in-depth activities, while sped is pretty much all review all of the time. I am also constantly just going, going, going throughout my day in sped. There is never a time when my kids are taking a test or doing something totally independently, and there are no routines such as filling out planners or packing up, etc. My entire day is teaching every second.

In gen ed I felt an immense pressure to get my kids to pass the state test- it was practically all I thought about. Whether it's right or not, my sped kids are not really expected to pass so that pressure is off of my shoulders. To me, that's one of the biggest perks of sped. It can vary though- if you work in a really high performing school where the sped kids are the only ones not passing the state test, the pressure is on you to get them to pass even though they have learning disabilities.

One of the biggest cons of sped for me is just a general lack of respect. Many classroom teachers think that non-classroom teachers have it SO easy because we don't have a full class of kids all day, and they think they work harder than we do. Not everyone does, but it's been a pervasive attitude in every building I've worked in. With "full inclusion" becoming increasingly popular, I also worry about being pushed into that type of position. In a lot of cases then you don't even get to teach anything as the sped teacher and end up being basically a para in the gen ed room. Right now my caseload is WAY too high for that to even be possible, but it is a constant worry with sped.
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Old 01-06-2014, 07:09 AM
 
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I have done both. The paperwork for both is tremendous. In my district, SPED teachers must keep a documentation sheet for every child and attach any relevant documents monthly. These are submitted to the board. It is a tremendous amount of paperwork in addition to IEP's and maintaining records. We also did grades and turned them in to the gen ed. teacher who would put them on report cards.

I also really agree with another poster who says that sped teachers do not get as much respect. I found this to be very true.
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I have done both
Old 01-15-2014, 05:02 AM
 
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I started in sp. ed resource and finished in a reg ed classroom.
-Having a sp.ed background helps in a classroom working with the variety of students. I enjoyed having "my class" while in reg. ed which I didn't feel when I was in a resource LD setting. However it is hard in a class setting having kids pulled out every which way for specials, etc.
-I enjoyed being a resource LD person pulling kids out to work in small groups, as you really get to know kids. The problems were that you only get x amount of time with them; how do you schedule them? what to pull them out of? and when there's a problem, they are then my problem.
-Both jobs have plenty of paperwork, and meetings. Both have many rewards and their share of problems. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to be in both situations. Good luck!
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