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Qualities for a Special Ed Teacher

Updated on February 5, 2013
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.


Are you considering a career in special education or do you know someone else who is considering it? One way to assess whether or not this will be a good career for you is to review the qualities of special ed teacher and consider how many of them describe you accurately. While it is not necessary to possess all of these qualities to be a good teacher, many excellent special ed teachers do possess most of them. Alternatively, if you will be on a hiring committee for a special ed teacher, this list of qualities may assist you with creating interview questions and other criteria for new hires.


1. Loves working with kids. This seems like it should be a given for anyone considering a career in the classroom, but we've all met teachers who really didn't seem to enjoy children. Whether you are considering regular education or special education, your top priority should always be the students. Even though there are a lot of aspects of teaching that don't directly involve working with students (writing lesson plans, grading papers, planning meetings, etc.), working with the kids is what keeps most of going.

2. Flexible. Special ed teachers are often at the mercy of other teachers' and teacher aides' schedules. They also have to take into account that on any given day, students may have unexpected behaviors, tantrums, etc. that will significantly impact the plans for the day. It is important to be willing to change your plans as needed throughout the day. It can all be a great asset to have back up plans, such as sensory activities, when students need a calming change of pace.

When I taught special education, I organized all of my Boardmaker schedule cards in plastic craft storage containers.
When I taught special education, I organized all of my Boardmaker schedule cards in plastic craft storage containers. | Source

3. Organized. Special education teachers have lots of schedules, IEP goals, lesson plans, and more to keep track of every day. It is essential that you have methods for keeping everything straight and recording all of the data that you need every day. There is no one right way to organize any given aspect of your classroom. Teachers need to figure out what works best for them and their classrooms.

4. Mature. Almost any special education teacher will have both students and teacher aides who will exhibit very immature behaviors. Honestly, when I was teaching, I had to deal with as many teacher aide maturity issues as I did student maturity issues. As the teacher, you always need to step up and be the bigger person. You can't get sucked into the issues yourself and must remain in the mediator role.

5. Ability to detach. Even if you work on things at home sometimes, which is completely fine, you must leave your emotions, concerns, etc. from the day at work. You can't dwell on these aspects of your job all night. It may seem heartless to do this, but it is part of the job. You can't let your emotions affect your teaching abilities.

6. Creative. All teachers find themselves in situations where things didn't go as planned and they have to improvise on the spot. This requires quick thinking and creativity. Additionally, many special education teachers will find occasions where they will need to make or modify materials because they simply can't find something that works for their students.

6 Exercises to Develop Your Leadership Skills

7. Leader. One of your responsibilities as a special education teacher is to run IEP meetings, parent-teacher conferences, and other group meetings pertaining to your students. As a new, young teacher, you will often be in charge of leading people who twice your age and have a lot more experience. Don't let this intimidate you. Jump right in and let them know that you're taking charge.

8. Open minded. Every teaching position requires learning new technology, teaching techniques, curriculum, and more on a regular basis. It's important not to get into a rut and to be open these new ideas. Special education positions also require being open to suggestions from your IEP team and other support staff, such as the occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist. While you will not agree with all of their suggestions, keep your students' best interests in the front of your mind and work through your differences together.

Effective Teamwork and Collaboration

9. Works well with others. Again, special education students work frequently with other staff members. It is essential that you can collaborate with this staff and stay on the same page as them for the sake of your students. Stay positive and keep all lines of communication open as much as possible.

10. Knowledge about the curriculum and about differentiated instruction. One of the first things that interviewing teams will look for in special education teaching candidates is their knowledge about differentiated instruction. These teachers need to have a solid understanding of all of the curriculum at hand and need to be able to make modifications efficiently and effectively. This can be an overwhelming task at first, but it should get easier with experience.


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    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Principal Z! It's great to get feedback on that particular point. Organization is such an important component of special education.

    • Principal Z profile image

      Zak Fitzenreider 

      6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Hello, and thank you for writing such a nice hub on an important topic!

      As a former teacher and a current admin, I just wanted to reiterate the organization piece that you pointed out. It consistently blows my mind when I see the daily schedule of meetings and student services that our cross cat teachers have to construct for themselves. I'm not sure I could do it!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, SRae!

    • SRae profile image

      Shelia Wadsworth 

      6 years ago from Central Pennsylvania

      What a FABULOUS hub! Special education teachers and support staff really are extraordinary people. Working with students with special needs takes patience, commitment and caring. I found your hub interesting and informative. I pinned it and will share on FB : )

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      justateacher, thanks! I hear you on the teacher aide issue. I often had many more issues with my aides than my students, even the ones who did have years of experience. There were so many occasions where I would have been less stressed handling the students on my own.

      Thanks, busillis! That's great.

    • busillis22 profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks so much for your insights into this! When I was in college I briefly considered switching to inclusive education to do special ed. I finally decided it wasn't the right thing for me - but I have so much love for the people who do it.

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 

      6 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      I love this list! I think it covers everything. One thing I didn't count on when I became a special education teacher is the maturity levels of the teacher's aides. I didn't count on teaching them right along with my students. Even those who had years of experience had issues!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, DDE! Experience and a well organized team can make all the difference in special education.

      Marcy, that's awesome. :) It's great to know that there are people like that in the field.

      Emily, sometimes it can help to have people working with students in areas that they struggled with themselves. I'm glad that you're enjoying your substitute work!

    • emilybee profile image


      6 years ago

      I have just begun substitute teaching within the past few weeks and occasionally I'm subbing with special ed kids, generally even -tempered ones and I have been enjoying doing it. The ones I've worked with so far just need a bit more help in areas of reading and writing. I can relate because as a child I really struggled with reading and had speech problems. Thank you for sharing these attributes to look for in a special education teacher :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Some of the most patient and compassionate people I know are Special Ed teachers. I am constantly in awe of their ability to see inside a child and work with them at the level where they can be reached. It's an awesome profession.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Excellent advice here and so true for experience needed and a well organized team. thanks for this information.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks Simone! You're right that all of these characteristics apply to all teachers. Some are especially important in the field of special ed, but none of them can be discounted for regular ed.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      All the best teachers I've had exhibit these characteristics. Considering that their work is difficult enough as it is, special ed teachers must be at least twice as passionate about kids, organized, flexible, etc.

      Great overview... this Hub reminds me just how extraordinary ALL teachers are- and how superhuman (good) special ed teachers must be!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Leah, you're right that special education teachers do have a lot of information to keep organized. Even an IEP with only 1-2 goals is typically at least 10-12 pages long and requires daily (or at least 2-3 times per week) goal collection with weekly updates online. It's challenging to collect all of that data regularly, especially when you have students with varying goals (i.e. some have speech goals, others have reading goals, etc.).

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      Special education teachers really deserve an extra pat on the back - there is a lot of information to keep organized on top of the typical lesson plan development. My own son has an IEP, but is in a mainstream classroom with pull-out supports (teacher of the deaf and speech) - with several kids requiring IEP's in his classroom, all with different needs, his teachers have a rather diverse set of kids!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks spartucusjones! Special education or not, a quality teacher can make all the difference in the classroom.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      7 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks for the insightful and informative hub! As a child I spent a few years in special education classes, and I can testify that a good teacher can make a huge difference (and vice versa).

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks Shelly! I'm glad that you agree with many of the points here and am sorry that you've worked with teachers like that who need some of this advice.

    • Shelly McRae profile image

      Shelly McRae 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Informative article, randomcreative. I've worked with many special ed teachers during my kid's time in school and wish I could point one or two of them to this article and say, "See, this is how it's done." Thanks for sharing.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks Vellur! I'm glad that you found this useful.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      7 years ago from Dubai

      You have put across very useful points for anyone considering a career in Special Education. Voted up.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      7 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, missolive! I'm glad that you agree with the attributes here.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      This is a great guide and reflection for anyone contemplating a career in Special Education. The attributes you have listed are very important and valid. Thank you for sharing your views and suggestions.

      Nice work


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