From Teaching to Special Education – Career Transition Case Study

From Teaching to Special Education – Career Transition Case Study

Transition within the same field of industry is a specific one, and many would call it rather a job change. That would be a misconception, however, since even within the same filed, different jobs may require completely different education and competencies.

Experience of one of my latest clients, Masha, demonstrate it perfectly. She wanted to move from general teaching to special education, a transition that may seem easy for someone who hasn’t experienced it, or someone who considers all teaching jobs the same. However we can point out few crucial differences in these two careers, on both operational and emotional level.


Differences  between general teaching and special edu

  • Special education teachers must regularly assess student’s learning progress using critical thinking skills and work with students struggling with dyslexia, ADHD, learning disabilities or mental and physical handicaps. They prepare individualized learning plans based on each student’s needs. General teachers, on the contrary, work with students without a special condition, don’t prepare individual lesson plans, and interact with lesser number of bodies in their job.
  • Special education teachers need to obtain a license and bachelor’s degree in education and special education. On the contrary, bachelor in general education is enough for a teacher. Some states may offer an alternative special education licensing program for individuals with a bachelor’s degree, in a subject other than teaching (this was the case of Masha). Some states and/or employers require even more education, with a master’s degree requirement in special education for all special education teachers. Individuals interested in working with special needs children must check the specific degree requirements of their state.
  • Teaching is emotionally challenging, but special education takes the pressure to entirely new level. Dealing with special need children, one needs an increased level of patience and empathy, to be able to understand their needs, some of which they aren’t able to express. Consulting general teachers and parents also becomes more difficult for special education.
  • Special education teachers may choose to work with students bearing a specific condition or disorder. For example, students with autism,and those who are visually impaired require very unique needs. Choosing to specialize on one type of student can provide an advanced skill set and specialized knowledge to prepare more comprehensive and effective teaching plans. When in a process of transition, you need to choose the field (or opt for general) for your specialization. General teachers don’t face this obstacle, since their degree allows them to teach on all levels outside of special needs.

The differences are plenty, and it’s important to talk about each one. One thing is to follow a mission in your life, and believing that special education is your new calling, another one, however, is understanding the impact the change can have on all other areas of your life. Life is not only work and a wrongly chosen filed can prove costly at the end.


Steps on making a transition within the same job area

  1. Understanding all the nuances of the new field, as well as differences to the old one. Discussing the impact the change will have on other areas of life, and the family of the prospect.
  2. Planning necessary educational changes, looking for the easiest possible way to obtain required qualification.
  3. Making a plan with milestones, starting with taking final decision (for special education) and ending with being successfully established in the new career.
  4. Preparing for the process of job application. Helping with resume writing, internal/external application, preparing for an interview (in Masha’s case we used to practice interview answers).
  5. Once the job is acquired, understanding all formal needs, and supporting the client emotionally, with regular phone calls, discussing the emotional challenges the transitions brings.
  6. Final establishment in the new setting.



Many people underestimate career transitions from one related field to another. However, as you can see, even transition from teaching (general field) to special education (specialized filed within the general field) presents a lot of challenges. Having someone around who understands the challenges will help you to navigate through the process safely and sound….

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