Should Aspiring Special Education Teachers Pursue a Specialized or General Education Degree?

When preparing for a career teaching students with disabilities, it’s important to know whether special education teachers should pursue a specialized or general education degree. Both types of degree programs can prepare candidates for success in the role of special education teacher at a public or private school. There are advantages and disadvantages to either path, so which choice is the right one varies from one student to another.

The Path to Becoming a Special Education Teacher

While every state in the U.S. requires special education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree – and, to attain a teaching license, coursework in teacher preparation – whether special education teachers pursue a specialized or general education degree is largely up to the individual. A number of aspiring special education teachers do look for degree programs in special education, but minoring in special education as part of an elementary education major is also a popular choice, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported.

Pros and Cons of Special Education Degree Programs

Whether special education teachers pursue a specialized or general education degree, there are positives and negatives to either choice. For example, when students choose a bachelor’s in special education degree program specifically, they have the opportunity to study in more depth the kinds of disabilities their future students may be coping with and the most effective ways to teach those students. They will gain hands-on experience working with special education classes – rather than just general education classes – during their student teaching experience.

However, bachelor’s degree programs in special education are harder to find than general education degrees, so choosing this path limits a student’s college selection. Additionally, students who focus narrowly on special education during their undergraduate studies spend less time learning general classroom management and teaching skills. Their degree and the skills they learn while attaining it are less versatile than a more general elementary education degree.

Pros and Cons of General Education Degrees for Special Education Teachers

There are benefits and drawbacks of a general education degree path for special education teachers, as well. Whether special education teachers should pursue a specialized or general education degree depends on how an individual views these pros and cons. One benefit is that it’s significantly easier to find degree programs for elementary education in general rather than for special education specifically. Having a more versatile academic background can also help candidates adapt to teaching roles outside of special education.

However, because they haven’t studied special education in-depth, these candidates don’t have the same level of knowledge of specific disabilities that teachers who majored in special education have. They also haven’t studied in detail how to tailor teaching methods to compensate for these various disabilities.

Whether special education teachers pursue a specialized or general education degree, they can prepare for the career by taking as many special education courses as possible.

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