Education Careers in demand

A high school educator or principalSeveral areas in the special education field, which can include classroom teachers, case managers and occupational therapists, offer opportunities for educators.

Sarah Roberts’ decisions have been especially personal. Watching her younger sister, who has Down syndrome, and peers with disabilities go through school inspired her to pursue a career in special ed. Then, several summers spent working at the Social Security Administration illuminated a more targeted path: helping special-ed students transition to the real world.

“I got a firsthand look at some of the post-school outcomes for students who have disabilities, ” says Roberts, 25, and they were “not great.” Indeed, the labor force participation rate for people with disabilities is about 18 percent, compared with 68 percent for those without.

After getting a bachelor’s in special education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Roberts earned her master’s in secondary special education and transition services at the University of Kansas in 2013.

Now, as a high school work experience coordinator for a number of schools in Colorado Springs, she helps young adults with a wide range of challenges gain community-based job experience, in the process exposing them to different career opportunities and teaching them job skills and interviewing techniques. She earns about $40, 000 annually.

Transition services is just one area among several offering opportunity in the special-ed field, which besides classroom teachers also includes case managers and occupational therapists. Median pay for teachers is about $55, 100, slightly higher than for most other teaching disciplines; according to the Department of Education’s latest teacher shortage survey, nearly all 50 states report a lack of qualified professionals.

“There are such significant needs at the different levels, ” says Kimberly Paulsen, associate professor of special education at Vanderbilt. “We get calls, if not every day, at least three, four times a week from school districts” looking for people, she says.

Geared toward both novice educators and veteran teachers, special-ed master’s programs typically train candidates to work with students challenged by dyslexia, cerebral palsy, behavior disorders and other learning disabilities. Many offer specializations in a range of areas, such as elementary school-age special ed, severe disabilities, visual impairment and autism spectrum disorders.

Roberts had already done student-teaching as an undergrad, so when she came to KU she had time to devote to a position working for a community-based transitions program for 18- to 21-year-olds while she did research with a faculty member on the subject. “Having that experience to kind of ground your education into is so vital, ” she says.

It's Interesting

  • Louisa Maria Hubbard (8 March 1836 – 5 November 1906) was an English feminist social reformer and writer. She is best known for her activism for increased opportunities for women's education and employment.
    Born into a wealthy merchant family in Russia, she moved to England as a young girl and remained there for most of her life. She never...

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