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Teaching students with special needs has always involved clear understanding of each student’s needs, complex planning, and realizing that instruction must be tailored to meet the individual needs of children as they progress. But how are the basic requirements for special education teachers measured? What are the skills, knowledge and dispositions that should be evident in the practices of teachers in order to maintain a high level of instruction? What do new teachers need to know and do?

The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has developed a criteria list, describing in detail what preparation is required for entry-level special educators. This list includes a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and the mastery of core academic subject matter, the Common Core, and an area of specialization. In addition, the CEC has developed a list of nine standards that qualified special education teachers demonstrate.

The 9 CEC Standards

Each of the standards outlined by the CEC are applicable to any area of specialization and, together, paint the picture of a well-prepared and qualified special education teacher.

    1. Teaching and Assessment:
      Special educators understand that specific instructional materials, assessments, learning environments and behavior supports are required when teaching individuals with exceptionalities.
    2. Professional Credentials and Employment
      Special educators take professionalism very seriously. They are ethical while seeking employment and during their teaching tenure. They treat colleagues with respect and follow procedures established by the district. They are accountable for their work and expect the same from others.
    3. Professional Development
      Special educators fully engage with professional development plans and earnestly pursue new and current information about their profession. They participate willingly in the evaluation process and work to better themselves as well as others with whom they work.
    4. Professional Colleagues
      Special educators recognize and respect colleagues in the field of special education as well as other fields of study. They collaborate with agencies and organizations to provide appropriate services for their students. When procedures are not followed or students with special needs are not being adequately served, they step in to either solve the problem or seek assistance to make changes.
    5. Paraeducator
      Special educators work closely with paraeducators to provide the best possible services to their students. They provide guidance when necessary and establish what paraeducators can and cannot do before work assignments are made. They step in when the actions or behavior of the paraeducator is inappropriate or detrimental to students.
    6. Parents and Families
      Special educators consider parents and families integral members of the educational team. They communicate regularly and respectfully, making sure that information is conveyed confidentially and in a culturally responsible manner. They keep parents and families informed of their rights and safeguards and encourage them to be involved in the education of their students.
    7. Research
      When special educators perform research, they are truthful about results and confidential when information is sensitive. They also produce accurate reports. They protect their students as the research is being carried out and advocate for the necessary research materials to improve so that results have merit.
    8. Case Management
      Special educators maintain accurate and confidential records for all students. They plan for transitions as appropriate. They follow procedural safeguards and provide due process as needed.
    9. Non-Educational Support
      Special educators advocate for not being expected to perform non-educational support tasks, such as administering medication. However, when asked to do so, they ensure that such practices are performed in accordance with policy and written instructions and that professional liability is disclosed.

Mentoring and Professional Growth

The CEC is committed to maintaining high standards for teachers who enter the field of special education, as outlined in the nine standards above. However, the Council has high expectations around mentoring and professional growth, as well.

Mentoring – According to the CEC, “even with well-designed and implemented preparation, the beginning special educator faces a myriad of challenges in applying and generalizing learned skills during their beginning teaching.” They believe that, as in other professional settings, the focused attention of a mature and experienced special education teacher will provide the necessary support to ensure that a new teacher becomes proficient quickly and correctly.

Professional Growth – The CEC also supports and encourages continuous professional development. “Like their colleagues in general education, special educators are lifelong learners committed to developing the highest potential and educational and quality of life potential of individuals with exceptionalities.” It is important that special educators select meaningful programs to enhance their profession and teaching practices. These programs must meet the following criteria:

  • Provide information and materials that will develop and increase the teachers’ mastery of content.
  • Demonstrate specific skills to enhance the teachers’ teaching practice.
  • Create an ongoing, collegial learning opportunity.

Being prepared to accept a position as a special education teacher takes devotion and hard work. If you are an experienced educator interested in teaching students with mild to moderate disabilities, earning the Master of Education in Special Education offered by Mississippi College is the next step to reaching your goal.

By earning this all-online degree, you will be able to continue teaching full time while you learn about developing instructional goals and assessing students with special needs. You will be able to “demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of content needed to teach interrelated disciplines as an independent teacher in a specialized setting.” And you will develop the skills and knowledge set forth in the nine standards developed for special education teachers by the Council for Exceptional Children.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


Council for Exceptional Children: Ethical Principles and Professional Practice Standards for Special Educators

Council for Exceptional Children: Standards for Professional Practice

Council for Exceptional Children: Definition of a Well-Prepared Special Education Teacher

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