The field of education is rapidly changing. Today, it is expected that teachers earn advanced degrees in their field in order to become highly qualified teachers. For a teacher who wishes to become a special education teacher, the decision to go back to school is not an easy one. Program requirements, time commitment, and financial aspects need to be considered before a teacher pursues a master’s degree in special education.
Prerequisites and Program Requirements
All master’s degree programs have educational and professional prerequisites for students seeking admission. In the field of special education, pursuing a master’s degree requires that the student already hold a bachelor’s degree. Many programs require the potential special education student to have an undergraduate degree in education, psychology, or sociology. In addition to having an undergraduate degree, many programs require the student to be a licensed educator. For those currently working as a full time teacher, both the educational and professional prerequisites have likely already been met.
Many special education graduate programs require the student to complete an internship in a school district while completing coursework. A practicing full-time teacher may be able to get internship credit for his or her current work in the classroom, especially if her classroom includes students with special needs. Master’s degree students may also be required to seek additional one-on-one experience with special needs students who are considered to have mild-moderate or severe needs depending on the certification the adult learner is pursuing.
Time and Financial Considerations
Pursuing a master’s degree in special education can be time consuming and expensive. A full-time teacher is likely spending eight hours in the classroom every weekday, in addition to planning time and meetings. Many master’s degree programs expect students to be actively working in the field of study while earning the degree. As a result, many schools offer evening and weekend classes. Some schools also offer intensive summer programs designed to allow students to take more than one quarter’s worth of classes during the summer months when teachers are not working. Finally, many reputable universities offer distance learning and online courses for teachers who wish to study and earn their degrees in the evenings after work. For more information on these programs, see our ranking of Top 10 Online Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs.
The expense of earning a master’s degree can also be a major consideration for teachers. Often, the salary of a classroom teacher is not high enough to pay for the degree without loans or scholarships. Current teachers should talk with their employer’s human resources department to see if the school offers tuition reimbursement for employees. According to the federal student loan department, new student loan laws also make it easier for full-time teachers to return to school by offering loan forgiveness programs to teachers who work in a non-profit or public school and with students belonging to high-risk populations (2).
The decision to pursue a master’s degree in special education while working full-time as a classroom teacher can be a difficult choice. While earning a graduate degree can be expensive and time consuming, teachers who wish to study special education can take advantage of loan forgiveness programs and credit for professional experience in order to make the process easier.