Earning a PhD In Special Education
Special education teachers work with students with varying special needs, using different methods and procedures that are adapted for each learner in order implement a teaching style that best suits their needs and helps them to achieve a higher level of success in school. There are many different types of special needs, including developmental, behavioral, and physical. In order to cater to the needs of these students, special education teachers create individual lesson plans specifically designed for each type of student.
A PhD in special education prepares students to hold leadership positions in research-based settings, working in human services, or as an educator in schools, colleges, or universities. Some may even fill positions within local, state, or national agencies. This specialization will draw on knowledge from many disciplines as a basis of understanding these varying learning disabilities. Through this advanced, research-oriented program, individuals aim to develop and implement effective programs within schools.
PhD programs can typically be completed in four years of full-time study. For students attending part-time, the program could take longer. This all depends on the student and the time they have to commit to coursework each semester. The program usually consists of required coursework, research, specialization courses, and dissertation. Some schools may also require an examination before the PhD can be awarded. In order to qualify for a PhD in special education program, most colleges and universities require you to have a relevant master’s degree in either special education or closely aligned field. Other prerequisites may include:
- A published journal or newspaper article
- A grant proposal for funding
- An essay
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Writing sample
Special Education Specializations
In a PhD program, students are required to meet a set number of core requirements that cover various topics, trends, research, analysis, and more. Beyond the core classes, students may also choose to specialize in their degree and cater it to which areas interest them most. Different schools offer varying areas of specialization, so researching what programs are available at each school is important before enrolling. With the vast number of special needs, these specialty areas allow for more research and study into a particular area. Some specialties that may be offered include:
- Early childhood special education: This type of specialization focuses on improving the lives of young children and their families. This may include research, papers, literature reviews, and other methods throughout the program.
- Mild/moderate disabilities: These types of disabilities could include mental and physical developmental learning disabilities that range from needing little assistance to requiring assistance for transportation, communication, and medical needs. This includes a wide range of learning disabilities and students with differing needs.
- Moderate/severe disabilities: Those with more severe conditions generally require long-term special education classes, therapy, and constant supervision and support. There are a wide range of conditions with varying needs.
- Physical and health impairments: These may include orthopedic impairments, brain injuries, various illnesses and conditions, or even multiple disabilities. Students experiencing these types of disabilities may require more physical and medical support than others.
- Orientation and mobility: These types of disabilities typically involve students who need assistance getting around, require physical therapy, or students with hearing impairments that may need interpreters or other aids.
- Visual impairments: Visual impairments can range from needing corrective eyewear to total blindness. Students with visual impairments may require different types of assistance depending on their degree of vision loss.
Licensing and Qualifications
In order to work in special education, you must be licensed through the state in which you work. These requirements for certification vary by state, and many require teachers to complete annual courses in order to keep their license current. If you are interested in working with multiple disabilities, many states offer a special education license that allows this. For those pursuing a PhD in this field, most schools will require students to have had at least a few years of experience teaching before they can be accepted to the program.
Working in special education can be very challenging, so important qualities for these teachers include good communication skills, patience, creativity, critical-thinking, and more. Though it does come with challenges, careers in this field can be very meaningful and rewarding.
Career Outlook with a Doctorate in Special Education
For individuals who go on to achieve a PhD in special education, the two most common career paths are teaching and research, though there are other career possibilities within this field. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for special education teachers is expected to grow 17 percent between 2010 and 2020. This growth is expected due to the increasing enrollment and growing demand for special education services. With many teachers also reaching retirement age in the coming years, new teachers will be needed to fill those positions.
Some of the potential career paths in special education include:
- Early childhood educator
- K-12 educator
- Adult educator
- College or university level professor
- Curriculum and lesson plan designer