Pursuing your Master’s in Special Education is a big step both personally and professionally. But for many educators in the special education field, it’s the right step.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment for special education teachers is projected to grow by about 3 percent in the next eight years. However, with changes to learning and work environments brought on by the pandemic, the demand for experienced special ed teachers who have advanced education may grow faster in the coming months and years.
Making the decision to get your master’s means weighing the cost of the degree on your time, income, and personal responsibilities with the benefits it can provide you and your learners in the long run. Of course, that’s a decision only you can make for yourself.
But to help you glean some insight into how a Master’s in Special Education can help you, here is some insight from Dawn Jackson M.Ed, Director and Owner of Solimar Academy, a private independent school, and Kerry Wang, MS, CAGS, an Integrated Preschool Teacher in a public school setting. Both educators pursued their Master’s in Special Education and shared some of the benefits of the degree they experienced personally.
A Master’s in Special Education Helps Teachers Understand How Students Connect with Learning
Dawn, who has 15 years of experience in special education, explains that her master’s degree equipped her with expanded knowledge of how children (and adults) connect with learning. “It’s something I use every day in my work now as a director and when I was in the classroom,” she says. “To me, it is the most significant piece for a child and their parents to understand.”
She cites a real-life example of how she was able to use that knowledge recently with one of her students, a fourth-grader who struggled with online learning and responded with daily fits of rage when she was overwhelmed. Through Dawn’s services, a coaching session with both parents and the student helped identify learning styles and create a customized learning plan that considered her areas of interest, her disposition, and her primary three learning styles.
“What was life-changing for the parents was when they were able to see that their very creative, spontaneous daughter was not an angry rebellious child but someone who felt deeply about being put into a learning situation that was not working with her style of learning,” Dawn notes.
By the end of the session, Dawn recalls, the student’s father expressed that his eyes were now opened to his daughter and how she approaches the world. “He realized when he asked her to do something and she did the opposite, it came from a place of being in her imagination more than in an act of rebellion and not listening,” Dawn explained.
“The mother too reported changes with her daughter, she learned to connect her with her daughter’s feelings, needs and choices; which is a game we use in our program and with our families based on non-violent communication.”
Graduate Education Provides Advanced Knowledge about Learning Styles
The biggest change that Dawn saw in her work as a direct result of her master’s degree was understanding the learning styles and modalities of learning. She notes that many children in special education tend to be kinesthetic learners, which is why they struggle in the classroom, but many teachers tend to use an auditory instruction approach.
Learning how different students learn – and how to teach to those learning styles — transformed Dawn’s instructions.
“When I gained this knowledge I was able to help students understand their learning style and strategies for learning within that modality,” she explains. “I saw incredible freedom in their lives when they had a better understanding of how they took in information and how that impacted their learning success.”
A Master’s Degree Allows You to Zero in on Areas of Interest
Dawn dubs getting her Master’s in Special Education as “the best time of my college experience” because it allowed her to really focus on the areas she wanted to, all while growing as an educator. Before she received her master’s in 2012, she worked in a charter school as a teacher for kids with learning challenges.
However, her passion was learning more about specific areas in the special education space, including autism, learning styles, and motivation. She notes that deciding to get her master’s enabled her to focus more on those specific areas of interest–all of which now have proven to be extremely useful in her day-to-day work.
A Special Education Master’s Provides Career Advancement
As a result of her degree, Dawn saw an increase in pay, which she explains “significantly” helped her and made it possible for her to better her own life and provide for her family in ways like purchasing a home and buying an extra car as her children grew.
Additionally, the degree helped her to advance her career because she was able to get a certification as a learning styles specialist in order to train parents and teachers in workshops. And of course, she now runs her own school, which allowed her to completely transform her career and day-to-day life.
Graduate Degrees Can Open Doors for the Future
For Kerry, who has been a teacher for 24 years, pursuing her master’s was part of her professional teaching career. She actually earned two different master’s degrees–one in Intensive Special Education in 2000 and a second in School Leadership in 2019.
She notes that both degrees have enhanced her ability to help children with special needs, their families and the professionals that work with them.
While her decision to pursue an advanced degree may have been influenced in part by her state’s requirement for teachers to have graduate degrees, it’s clear that doing so only opened up additional doors for Kerry, because she is now thinking even bigger and pursuing her Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership.
While the moments that made these degrees worth it are admirable, it is important to understand that pursuing a graduate degree is a commitment. For instance, Dawn was a single mother with three children and two jobs during the time she went back to school and she remembers feeling overworked for a long time. However, for her, her degree was the key to opening her own school and designing the life she wanted.
“There wasn’t much time for a break, but I knew the results would be worth it in the end,” she says. “The degree did open doors for me that have led me to the work I do today with personality profiles and customized learning plans to motivate children in their education and learning journey.”