Special education was originally a classroom full of kids who for one reason or another, couldn’t learn at the pace of their original classmates, or who had behavioral problems. Today there are several categories of special education and in most states, licenses to match those categories. That means special education teachers face an additional educational component for licensure and when they obtain it, will most likely be paid at a higher scale than regular classroom teachers. The options for obtaining special education licensure are usually the traditional educational institutions because of the requirement for supervised classroom work that is a feature of any teacher education program. However there are a few schools with online programs that are accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) or by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Categories for Special Education Students The education community and the organization of school psychologists have assembled a list of impairments that require special education. Those include impaired hearing, impaired vision, emotional disability, developmental delay, autism, mental retardation, orthopedic impairment, speech impairment, traumatic brain injury, and a category for “other” health impairments. Then there are the specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia that are not the result of any physical condition or injury. Online Programs at Traditional Universities The University of North Carolina offers several online programs for licensed teachers. The East Carolina campus has a master’s program for licensed teachers that leads to a MAEd with emphasis on one of the following: mental retardation, emotional/behavioral disabilities, learning disabilities, or low-incidence disabilities. The Chapel Hill campus has a MAT program with general training in special education for students with mild disabilities. The Western Carolina campus offers an online MAEd with three tracks: mild disabilities, severe disabilities, and gifted children. The University of Massachusetts Online (UMassOnline) has several special education options. There is a Master of Education in special education for children with impaired vision, and a MEd in vision rehabilitation. A MEd in Curriculum & Instruction is available with emphasis on children with autism. There is also a certificate program for Behavioral Intervention with Autistic Students. A Mixture of Specialized Degrees and Certificates The University of North Texas and the University of Minnesota/Mankato both have graduate certificate programs in special education. Florida State University offers the Master of Science in Special Education with specialization in severe disabilities (autism and severe cognitive disability), early childhood special education (birth through age 5 years), and high incidence disabilities. The University of Kentucky and Gonzaga University both have online graduate degrees in special education. The University of Missouri/Columbia offers a MEd in Mental Health Practices in Schools, designed for both teachers and administrators. Most of these programs are designed to meet teacher licensing requirements in the state where the campus is located; however there is a license reciprocity agreement for teachers with at least 33 states as participants. There are a few exclusively online schools with accredited special education programs; the first to achieve NCATE recognition is Western Governors University, which also offers several K-12 teaching degrees that meet licensure standards. If you are a licensed teacher wishing to break into special education there are several viable online programs available to you. There are also MAT programs in special education for individuals who are not licensed teachers but are interested in making a career change into education. Special education has become a respected and well paid educational niche that requires extra education, which is increasingly available to teachers who would like to go back to school and continue working.
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