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Do Special Education Teachers Need to Know ASL?

American Sign Language, or ASL, is a language that many students with disabilities use to communicate their needs to a special education teacher. For this reason, many colleges offer courses in sign language as a part of their degree plans. While this can make it seem as though it is a requirement to know the language to become a certified teacher, prospective educators in the special education field should have a full understanding of how the language is used in schools, along with the requirements set by their educational systems, so that they can make an educated decision regarding the need to learn sign language prior to working in the classroom.

State Requirements for Licensure

One of the first things a potential educator should identify is their state and local public school systems’ requirements for certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the requirements to become a teacher in the special education field can vary from one state to another. While every public school teacher will be required to earn a bachelor’s degree, the courses required for graduation can vary according to the specific college a prospective teacher has chosen. It is also important to note that specific licenses may be granted for those who work within specialized fields. For example, a teacher who desires to earn an endorsement that will allow them to work specifically with students who have a hearing impairment may be required to learn ASL.

How Sign Language is Used in the Classroom

ASLAlthough teachers who work with students who have hearing impairments are the most likely to use sign language, there are other situations in which an educator will need to know the language. For example, students with speech impairments, or who speak a different language, can utilize sign language to communicate their basic needs. American Sign Language can also offer common ground for helping special populations of students to blend with their classmates. A recent article on Cliftonpark.com, describes how one teacher has used American Sign Language to help students work together on a basketball team. As a general rule, anytime a teacher has an opportunity to use sign language in their classroom, it is to everyone’s benefit.

Basics of Learning Sign Language

Learning sign language for special education is similar to learning any language. However, many students find that the physical motions combined with speaking each word can make it easier to learn new words. Due to its importance in special education, the majority of colleges and universities offer courses that students can enroll in while they work toward a degree. Typically, a year of sign language courses can provide a basic understanding of how to communicate with those who have special needs. However, most educators will find that it may take anywhere from two to four years of courses before they are completely fluent. Additionally, continuing education courses can help teachers to keep their language skills fresh if they have a gap in their need to speak sign language at any point in their career.

Embarking on the journey to become a teacher is always exciting, and those who are entering the field of education know that each course they take should enhance their ability to reach the students they serve. Although sign language may not be a requirement to teach in every state, the benefits of learning to sign are clear. By taking the time to learn ASL, a special education teacher will be highly qualified to enter the classroom with effective strategies for helping each student reach their full potential.