6 Myths About Special Education Teachers

Teaching is a tough job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I know we have all heard the stories of incredulous family and friends that regale, “but you get paid during vacation…” “You only have to work part of the year…”

So many truly believe that teachers are overpaid.

If you are a teacher, you have met these people.

And if you are a special education teacher, these comments are exacerbated. “You don’t even teach…” “How do you teach special ed? It’s not science or math or anything…” “All you have to do is take the ones that get out of control and contain them…”

Although harsh, I have heard all of these first hand. It’s unfair that these assumptions surpass the actual time, dedication, and pride that teachers put into their classroom. They spend countless hours setting up a classroom that is bound to be destroyed after the first meltdown. Tirelessly, these teachers replace broken and ripped materials, analyze what went wrong, and try to fix things for the future. As special education teachers, we know that no matter how prepared we can be, we cannot account for the natural ups and downs that each and every new day can bring.

Today I want to dispel 6 myths about special education teachers.

1.       “You don’t teach.”

Okay, seriously? Of course we teach. In fact, we teach math, science, reading and writing, just as much as we social, motor, or emotional regulation skills. We teach so much more than COMMON CORE. We teach students what utensil to use, how to wash their hands, and in some cases, teach them how to interact with others around them.


Our realm of teaching extends beyond anything we were EVER trained for and we embrace each and every step in the process.


2.       “You must have problems because you know how to teach others with problems.”

Believe it or not, I was once told, “oh, you are a special ed teacher? Takes one to know one. Do you have problems too?” This is a wonderful comment I vividly remember having with a general education teacher. Really? I don’t even know how to respond to this one.


The students I teach are some of the most amazing and intriguing people I know. I learn from them every day. And many of my students had a stronger grasp of calculus and string theory than I will ever have.


3.       “Special ed is not a subject, there’s nothing to teach.”

Special education is not a “core” subject, yes. HOWEVER… special education teachers must have an understanding of every subject. They need to be able to adapt lessons and pre- and re-teach every subject in a must be flexible enough to teach in a large variety of ways.


A special education teacher’s tool box is vast. We are FULL of strategies and multi-sensory ways to teach various topics. In fact, we probably have more ways to teach a subject than the core subject teachers.


4.       “You don’t even work the whole year!”

Yes, and no. Technically, many of us do not work year-round (though there are exceptions), but that does not mean that we take the summer off. Every teacher I know works on planning, prep, and strategizing all summer long. Many of us spend even more hours, (off the clock), in our classrooms, setting up for the new school year.


But the point that many miss is that we are also not getting PAID during the summer. We get paid when we work, just like everyone else. Most teachers are salaried and this salary does not change whether there is a day off (or vacation) from school. Some teachers opt to have part of their paycheck withheld all school year so that they can have a paycheck for the summer. This does not mean that we are getting paid for not working. It means we are getting paid for the days we already worked.


5.       “All you have to do is (fill-in the blank).”

“Baby-sit, contain, wipe butts, etc. You’re not a REAL teacher. Your students don’t even learn anything.”


My students absolutely do learn and yes, I have done all of those things on a daily basis. I have had to restrain, feed, and wash my students too. I still think they are the most amazing people in the world. I have taught my students to use the bathroom, but I have also taught them how to do long division.


6.       “Your job is not hard, anyone could do it.”

Feel free to stop by my classroom on your break. I’ll show you what it is like to hold hands and be on guard all day because you have students that think desks are baseballs or have an insatiable urge to bolt at every chance.


You can practice the art of eating on the run and holding your bladder for 7 hours. It’s fun!


Seriously, if it were easy, there wouldn’t be a critical shortage for special education teachers. It is a very tough job. I believe we have the stress of a heart surgeon and ¼ the paycheck. Students are placed in my care for 7 hours every day and not only do I need to teach them, I need to foremost, keep them safe. Keep them safe from the dangers of missing safety signs and cues, safe from bullies, and safe from themselves. We are asked to not only teach Common Core, but to teach why we stop at a stop sign, why it is important to bathe and wash your hands and why you shouldn’t hurt yourself.


"If special education teachers were regarded as the hard-working, devoted, persistent beings that we are, we might gain a bit more respect." << Tweet this!


It is because of these myths that teaching special education can be even tougher than it needs to be. Burnout and turnover rates are high. But there is something you can do about it.


If you need suggestions for getting through your first few weeks of teaching, sign up for my FREE webinar, Surviving Special Ed. This one-hour webinar will discuss tips and strategies to help you get through your first few weeks (and more!) with confidence.