Qualities of a Good Special Education Teacher

Because of the nature of their profession, special education teachers should possess certain qualities. Special education teachers work with students who have disabilities and other challenges that require patience, tolerance, and an ability to reach and motivate students with a variety of needs and disabilities. Special education teachers often use different types of teaching methods to reach the different types of students in their classrooms, adding to the need for creativity and acceptance of differences in other people.

A good special education teacher juggles these demands by being knowledgeable about the requirements of the job and being well organized. Depending on his or her employment situation, some special education teachers work in a variety of settings, sometimes within the same day. Moving from classroom to classroom, or even location to location, means that a good special education teacher will be prepared for the unexpected.

Those people who hold a special education degree and work as a special education teacher must not only be flexible, organized, and able to communicate with students, but also be able to use those qualities when interacting with parents, administrators, other teachers, and the many support staff members who work in special education classrooms. Personal responsibility for their actions can also be a key to success for a special education teacher.


Organization is an especially important quality for a special education teacher. In a classroom, a special education teacher is in charge of one or more students with varying disabilities, learning difficulties, and personal needs. Organization becomes key to ensuring each student has a successful educational experience. Because of current trends in special education, many special education students also spend varying amounts of time in a general education classroom. Sometimes, a special education teacher will move with the student between a general education classroom and a special education classroom. A teacher who holds a special education degree and teaches special education students must draw on organizational skills because of such movement within schools.

For a special education teacher, good organizational skills also are vital because of the amount of paperwork and various other interactions involved as a teacher of special education students. Each special education student is required to have his or her own Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which includes information about the student's disability and goals for the school year. A special education teacher not only must write the plan, but also gathers input from other faculty, parents or guardians, administrators, and other professionals like social workers, counselors, and therapists. Putting together this document requires organization, as does having needed information at hand for regular meetings with these interested parties. A special education teacher also draws on IEPs as he or she organizes lesson plans and activities, both inside and outside of class.


Those who earn a special education degree and become special education teachers also must be incredibly patient. Being patient is defined as being capable of persevering or capable of waiting. Such a quality comes into play because of the needs and nature of special education students. Special education students can come to school with a variety of problems. Some, like students with epilepsy, might miss time on a regular basis for treatment or medication adjustments. Others, like students with mental disabilities, might have a limited ability to learn and require constant repetition of a lesson. Still others, like those with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, might need extra time to complete assignments and cannot always handle the same workload from day to day. Each of these situations requires patience on the part of the special education teacher. Each special education teacher must patiently encourage his or her students, and not become frustrated when progress proves difficult and slow. Breaking a lesson down further and further might not be enough to help a student learn. Special education teachers must also be patient with the demands of the position as he or she must work not only with the student, but the student's parents, other teachers, and medical professionals.

Able to Motivate Students

All children can learn, but it is finding a way to reach and motivate them that can make a special education teacher's job different, and often more difficult, than a general education teacher. Drawing on the training gained while earning a special education degree or through other programs, special education teachers must adjust lessons to the students’ specific needs so they can find a way for them to learn. Motivation can came in many forms from positive reinforcement to rewards or from instilling problem-solving abilities to creating stimulating, empowering learning activities. Special education teachers can also motivate students by structuring classrooms to meet the needs of their students. For example, autistic students benefit from certain types of classroom structures that encourage their learning capabilities. What will motivate one special education student, however, will not always motivate another due to widely varying needs. Having lessons reach special education students and helping them become independent thinkers with problem- solving abilities, to whatever degree possible, are a few of the positive results of motivating students. Special education teachers will not be the only motivators of students in the classroom, as the aid of teacher's assistants, general education teachers, administrators, and parents can also contribute to the process.

Understanding of Students' Special Needs

While working towards a special education degree, aspiring special education teachers will learn about the various disabilities, medical conditions, and other challenges that often lead to a student being placed in a special education program. When these teachers enter their own classrooms, they draw on this knowledge to understand the special needs of their students. Every student of a special education teacher has unique challenges. For students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, being focused for a certain length of time will be challenging, so his or her special education teacher should construct lessons and school day flow accordingly. Various learning difficulties, from mild to severe, also need a certain type of classroom environment and information presented to them in a certain way so they can learn effectively. To help their special education students get the most of their educational experience, special education teachers will also use assessments to understand how to teach them and reach them. By discovering the educational tools that work for their students, special education teachers can write an effective Individualized Education Plan (IEP) so all involved with the special education student's learning can share knowledge about his or her needs and goals.

Acceptance of Differences in Others

Another important quality in a special education teacher is accepting differences in others, especially in his or her students and co-workers. Obtaining a special education degree and working with special education students will be challenging on a day-to-day basis in part because of those differences found in students placed in special education. Accepting that each and every special education student is different and no better or worse than another will ease the demanding nature of working in special education. From physical features to physical limitations or from varying intellectual abilities to difficult personalities, special education students come to the classroom with differences that must be accepted as well as needs that must be met. Special education teachers should not only be accepting of their unique students, but also of their co-workers. Each member of a special education student's team wants the best for that student, but each member might have a different opinion on how to best serve that student as well. By accepting those differences and working through any conflicts, a special education teacher can be an effective educator.


Thinking creatively is a key to success for a student obtaining a special education degree and becoming a special education teacher. Because of the differing demands of special education students, their problems and needs should be approached with creativity as lesson plans are written. A special education teacher should figure out how to creatively break information down in a lesson and make it accessible for the student, based on knowledge about his or her disability or challenge. Being inventive for a special education teacher also means creating fun but appropriate activities for his or her students. Some will be tailored for a specific student, while other creative activities will address group needs. A teacher's creativity can also extend to problem solving. For example, a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might need his special education teacher to creatively think of ways for him or her to focus on an assignment or create a workable daily schedule. Creativity for a special education teacher also extends to classroom decorations, classroom organization, out-of-class field trips, and the like. Writing a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in conjunction with parents or guardians, other faculty members, administrators, and health professionals will involve a special education teacher's creativity as well.

Good Communication Skills

Essential to the success of a special education teacher or an aspiring teacher earning a special education degree is having good communication skills. Special education students often require more focused, understanding methods of communicating classroom lessons. Each student comes to a special education program with a set of unique challenges that must be considered when trying to develop ways of communicating with him or her. Students with behavioral challenges like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, will often need to be communicated with differently from a deaf or blind student, and a teacher's communication with them must be adjusted accordingly. Communicating reading lessons for a student with dyslexia will usually be different than for a student with autism, and a special education teacher must be able to adjust accordingly. Effective communication is key to balancing the needs of the student with the limits of the school system. Special education students benefit from the communication of concrete feedback, a special education teacher's expectations, and what a special education teacher specifically wants them to learn. Because special education teachers almost always work as part of a team, they should communicate effectively with parents, other faculty, administrators, staff, social workers, medical and health professionals, and others as well. More experienced and effective special education teachers can also use their communication skills to mentor new or less experienced teachers.


Being cooperative is also a key quality for a special education teacher. Cooperative in this sense can be defined as working with others for a common purpose. After earning a special education degree and becoming a special education teacher, an educator works with a variety of students, teachers, teacher's assistants, administrators, and professionals to provide the best possible educational experience for a special education student. This cooperative effort takes place in the classroom, in meetings, and on field trips over the course of the school year, for example. A special education teacher also works closely with a special education student's parents or guardians to ensure a cooperative effort both at school and at home to meet a special education student's needs and to reach his or her educational goals. Being cooperative comes into play when a special education teacher is writing a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as well. While the special education teacher often takes the lead in writing the document, input can also come from the student's parents or guardians, other teachers, school administrators, medical and educational professionals, and others. This cooperative effort ensures that the IEP is comprehensive, sets out appropriate goals for the student, and appropriately challenges the student.

Last Updated: 09/18/2014


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