How to Become a Special Education Assistant

Whether a person is just entering college or already working full-time, finding the right career path is vital. There are thousands of different job positions available, but this doesn’t mean that each job is a good fit for each individual.

If a person is working in a job that she doesn’t find rewarding and personally fulfilling, it is never too late to make a change. Moving from one field to another can be scary, but anything that is worthwhile in life is accompanied by some level of risk.

One field that continues to grow is the field of education. Specifically, there is a need for those who can work in a knowledgeable way with students who have special needs. If a person doesn’t want to earn a formal teaching degree through years of study, she can still find employment as a special education assistant.

What is a Special Education Assistant?

A special education assistant assists teachers by working with students with various disabilities and special needs. Since the needs of different students will vary greatly, there are many different types of special education assistants.

Assistants are needed for all age groups. An assistant could work with anyone from a toddler with developmental delays to a senior citizen who is mentally challenged.
Many assistants develop specialties, or types of disabilities that they are most comfortable working with. 

For instance, one assistant might seek jobs working with elementary-aged students who are visually impaired. Another might spend her days working with autistic middle school students while a third works in an adult education program with mentally challenged adults.

What Training is Necessary?

When a person decides to start a career as an assistant in special education, getting the proper education and training is key. This is important both for a professional’s effectiveness and their safety.

If an assistant is going to work in the public school system, she needs to check the requirements of the specific district(s) that she is interested in, as requirements can vary greatly from one region to another.

In general, all districts require that an assistant has at least a high school diploma. However, further education is a necessity in most districts. The most common requirement is an Associate’s degree, which can be earned in two years of full-time study.

If an assistant is interested in working in a Title 1 school, the requirements are set by the federal government. Title 1 is a program that covers schools with a large percentage of low income students. To work in a Title 1 school, an assistant must complete one of the following requirements:

  • Two years of college
  • An Associate’s degree
  • Completion of a state or local assessment

In addition, many states have certain tests that must be passed before a person can work with the special needs population in the school system. These are skills-based tests that vary based on the needs of the students that an assistant will be serving.

What Skills are Important?

Education and training are vital, but there are some skills and character traits that cannot be drawn out of a textbook or learned in a classroom. However, a person can develop these traits with hard work and dedication.

First, a teacher assistant needs to be patient and understanding. Working with the special needs population is quite different than working with traditional students. At times, it takes a huge amount of time and effort to see small improvements. Since the assistant won’t always see results right away, patience and perseverance are vital.

An excellent teacher assistant for special needs students will also develop exceptional interpersonal skills. When a person is teaching, no two days are ever quite the same. In addition to dealing with the needs of various students, an assistant will also deal with teachers, other professionals, parents and caregivers. 

Finally, good communication skills are an integral part of finding career success as a teaching assistant. These skills allow the professional to reach students at all ability levels, and they also encourage positive collaboration among other staff members.

Before a person starts a training or educational program, it’s a good idea to spend at least one day shadowing a current teaching assistant. Although reading about an assistant’s job responsibilities is helpful, there’s nothing quite like seeing the work being done in person. 

It’s also important to ask plenty of questions. Someone who is already working in this field is a great resource, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise by asking for their honest, candid feedback and learning what a typical day is like.

Working as a special education assistant will not always be easy, but great assistants can make a difference every day by impacting their students in a positive manner

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