Top 10 Special Education Teacher Qualities

Do you have what it takes to enjoy a career teaching special education?

Characteristics of Special Ed Teachers

teacher with down syndrome child symbolizing teaching special education

By Joy Hutton

More than most other professions, the task of teaching special education requires people who possess a particular set of qualities.

If you are considering the teaching profession, rest assured that if you get excited about situations where others might give up, you just may be perfect for this rewarding and life-changing career.

Compare your own personality traits with the ones listed below to see if teaching special education is the right career for you.

1. Special Education Teachers Are Good-Humored

Having your own well-tuned sense of humor will lighten your days and invigorate your teaching of special education students. Regardless of their disabilities, your students can sense when you are enjoying them and their personalities. So go ahead, have fun! This is one of the primary characteristics of a special education teacher.

2. Good Teachers Are Organized

All students need structure to succeed, but special education students need it more. Whether you are teaching mildly dyslexic, severely handicapped or intellectually disabled students, you need to provide the class with a physical and academic structure conducive to learning. This is at the heart of teaching special education.

3. They're Accepting of Their Students

Special education teaching provides you with the opportunity to love and appreciate others regardless of their capabilities or behavior. When students make life difficult for you by demanding excessive attention or responding too loudly, remember how much you treasure them for the unique individuals they are. Seeking to truly understand and encourage your students will help them—and you—go far.

4. They're Creative in Teaching Methods

People who think outside the box often do a stellar job teaching special education. The ability to find new ways to explain and demonstrate subject matter is often the single most effective characteristic a special ed teacher can possess. Bringing creativity into the classroom will have the benefit of enriching your classroom environment as well. This is another one of the great qualities of a special education teacher.

5. And Even-Tempered

Students with intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance or autism can lose it when teachers are not direct, firm, kind and helpful, even in difficult situations. Watch yourself closely next time a crisis or emergency comes up and see how you respond. Do you keep your wits about you and deal calmly with the situation? If so, you have a great temperament to become a special education teacher.

6. Special Education Teachers Are Confident

In a special ed classroom, you need to be self-assured in your decisions and leave no room for self-doubt, or it can be too easy to lose control. When you continually lead students who are unused to taking the lead themselves, you can start questioning your own decisions.

7. Special Education Teachers are Intuitive

Some auditory learning disabilities, injuries and other handicaps make special education students awkward communicators. When teaching special education, you will need to be watchful and involved so you can foresee students' needs and address their concerns when they lack the ability to tell you about them.

8. ...And Thick-Skinned

Teaching special education can be frustrating at times and, to make matters worse, your students may not have the maturity to suffer quietly along. Their thoughtless words can topple a well-meaning teacher who is overly sensitive to negative comments or personal quips. Having—or developing—a thick skin will protect you from burning out over thoughtless comments. If you struggle in this area, try to focus on noticing the positive feedback you get.

9. Special Education Teachers Are Optimistic

Sometimes comparatively simple tasks can become long, arduous battles for students with learning disabilities. Their teachers need to offer hope and encouragement in difficult situations. Think about how frustrating it would be for you to have to try so hard to master subjects, techniques or activities. Teaching special education means celebrating any and all victories, whether for long-awaited successes or simple attempts.

10. They're Dedicated to Their Students

Regularity and dependability are important qualities to have when special education teaching. Taking the opportunity to work with students for an extended period of time can be a huge confidence builder for them. Plus, once you know a student's strengths and struggles, no one is better equipped than you to help them. Think about your dedication and whether it can go the distance in meeting the needs of these exceptional students.