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Job Search Advice for Special Education Graduates

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Guest post by Autumn Lewis, Manager, Teacher Engagement, National Council on Teacher Quality.

If you recently graduated with a special education degree, you are probably going to be the envy of your friends who also are in the job market. Special education teachers are in short supply nationwide, with almost every state reporting that it needs special education teachers.

The shortage of teachers with your skills means you may have choices about where you teach. Look for a district that will support you in this challenging and immensely important work. Ask the right questions, and you'll increase your chances of landing a job you love.

Before you start applying, decide the type of position you'd like to have and ensure it capitalizes on your skills. What age groups, disability categories, and subjects are you hoping to teach? Do you prefer working with students in small groups, in a general education classroom, or in a separate classroom? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you be strategic in your search. Of course, you'll still need to be flexible. Your hopes may not perfectly align with the needs of every position you apply for, but knowing what you're best at and what's really important to you will help focus your job hunting.

Your students will all have unique challenges, so find out how a district responds to those needs. Ask what classroom materials and resources are offered to support struggling students. You'll also want to know about specialized curricula and programs for students who need to catch up. 

No matter how well-prepared you are to have your own classroom, every new teacher benefits from having an experienced teacher as a mentor, especially during that first year. Ask school districts if they have a formal mentoring program. You'll appreciate having someone you can turn to when you run into a problem.

Opportunities to collaborate with other teachers--both those in general classrooms and other special education teachers--will give you the chance to learn from others. By asking the person who interviews you how often teachers meet to discuss students' progress and to plan together shows you understand the importance of learning together. Also, check to see what kind of support the principal will offer you.

Districts are looking for strong candidates to fill special education positions. By asking smart questions, you're demonstrating that you understand the demanding nature of this work. At the same time, you will also discover if a district is a place where you can succeed.

Autumn Lewis is a manager of teacher engagement at the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based policy and advocacy group.

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